It’s senior day. With the Spartans holding onto a near 20-point lead, it was senior guard Taryn McCutcheon’s time to fulfill the tradition of kissing the Spartan head at midcourt, exiting as only the second player in Spartan women’s basketball history to record 1,000 points and 500 assists.
McCutcheon hesitated, looking at the Breslin crowd and realizing how fast these four years flew by, then bent and kissed the Spartan head.
East Lansing roared for her. She hugged coach Suzy Merchant, assistant Kristin Haynie — whose school assist record she had broken earlier that day — her teammates and coaches. Her illustrious career was solidified. A captain, record-breaking, All-Big Ten point guard. But McCutcheon’s legacy transcended basketball.
For everything that East Lansing gave McCutcheon, she gave all she had back. Beyond the lines of the basketball court, McCutcheon's story is one of a person and her community, their relationship and how it became a home.
In January, McCutcheon shared her story. She moved to East Lansing from West Virginia halfway through her senior year of high school, after her experience with bullying. Transitioning from a place where she didn’t feel like she belonged and struggled to find herself, she said she was immediately welcomed in East Lansing.
“It’s just that feel when people go on visits and they’re like, ‘Oh it’s a family atmosphere,'” McCutcheon said. “Half those people just say it because that’s what you say … but this place is it.”
From East Lansing High School on, McCutcheon was welcomed into the community.
“I was scared to death, I said I wouldn’t even play basketball at East Lansing," McCutcheon said. "I was like, 'I don’t even have to play on the team, I don’t want to step on anybody’s toes.'”
But at East Lansing High School, McCutcheon found her place.
“The community was just so happy that I was there,” McCutcheon said. “They were just happy that I was starting playing basketball at East Lansing and that feeling of acceptance, immediate acceptance, no questions asked, they immediately picked me up. They were friends to me, they were family and they were really there for me and I had the happiest moments of my life in those three or four months that I had at East Lansing and here it only gets better.”
At Michigan State, McCutcheon continued to thrive.
“(The fans are) always there, it’s unbelievable,” McCutcheon said. “That is a family. I actually get annoyed when people are talking about other schools, ‘It’s a family atmosphere,’ you have no idea, you don’t even know. Spartan Nation is different.”
McCutcheon leaves the Spartans as the leader in assists. Above that, she was able to influence an entire community and make an impact in people's lives.
After her Senior Day, she reflected on her four years and what they meant to her and everyone she touched. She said if she could go back and talk to freshman Taryn McCutcheon, she would tell her it gets hard, but not to change a thing.
“I would probably just go back and say, it’s gonna get heavier than you think and it's going to get more overwhelming than you think, but every single bit of it is worth it and I would not go back and change anything that I did. Just to keep fighting and to keep looking out for other people.”
Her impact stretches through her four years at Michigan State and before, but when McCutcheon shared a video talking about her struggles with bullying and how she dealt with them, her relationship with this community was highlighted. She shared her story, something that had been weighing on her for a long time, to help others who might be in her shoes.
“I was so overwhelmed by the amount of response that I got from that,” McCutcheon said. “I’m super, super grateful that it did have that effect on people ... but I had no idea that it was going to be that big. … You never know what somebody’s going through. So anybody who could hear, If I only helped one person, I don’t care, I’d do it all over again.”
With her time ending at Michigan State, a chapter in her life has closed. However, this chapter was a gift to both McCutcheon and her community.
“It’s just been a journey, like everything else you go through in life, it's just a chapter in your life,” McCutcheon said. “This one was the most fun and the most meaningful. I went through a lot of stuff before that, this one felt like a little bit of a reward coming to this community. And of course there’s ups and downs, but a lot of ups, a lot of ups here.”