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Nikki Smith makes a name for herself in record-breaking freshman season

March 29, 2023
Freshman all-around competitor Nikki Smith at practice on Friday, March 24, 2023 - one week before the Spartans travel to Pittsburgh, Pa for the second round of the NCAA Regionals tournament.
Freshman all-around competitor Nikki Smith at practice on Friday, March 24, 2023 - one week before the Spartans travel to Pittsburgh, Pa for the second round of the NCAA Regionals tournament.

Nikki Smith is only a freshman, but you would not be able to tell by the way she competes.

Smith performs with the grace, power and poise that you would expect from someone well beyond her years, but the 18-year-old has had her fair share of practice on national stages.

Before her time at Michigan State, Smith competed in the Nastia Liukin Cup. The Nastia Liukin Cup is a national competition for the nation's top junior elite gymnasts.

Smith competed in the Nastia Liukin Cup in 2020, 2021 and 2022 where she placed 10th, 5th and tied for first place respectively in the all-around.

When the freshman reflected back on her near-life-long gymnastics career, the moment that she first qualified for the Nastia Liukin Cup stuck out to her as a highlight.

“I like being on TV," Smith said. "It was such a big crowd, and it just made me want to just keep doing it (gymnastics). I just love it.” 

Smith said that the Nastia Liukin Cup being on TV and being such a large-scale competition was a huge piece in calming her nerves moving onto collegiate gymnastics.

A family affair

Nikki grew up competing on the same team as her older sister Nyah Smith up until Nyah graduated high school and moved on to start her gymnastics career at MSU in 2019. After three years apart, the Smith sisters were once again competing together when Nikki started her freshman year as a Spartan this past fall.

“I love competing with my sister," Nikki  said. "She's always there for me and always helping me with everything like nerves and just whenever I need her, she's there. We were on the same team until she went to college, and then, I was without her for three years. And now we're back on the same team.” 

Nikki's freshman campaign so far has been nothing short of remarkable.

On March 5, 2023, she became the third Spartan gymnast in history to earn a perfect 10.000 on the vault, being just one of 11 gymnasts nationally to log a perfect vault score this season. Her incredible performance that day made her the all-around record holder at Michigan State with a final score of 39.775.

Every single one of her career-highs this season have been above 9.900, which is no small feat. The freshman set career-highs of 9.975 on floor and the uneven bars and a 9.925 on the balance beam.

Nikki’s highly accomplished first year as a Spartan landed her in the top 25 individual gymnasts in the country headed into regionals. Her record-breaking year also earned her the Big Ten Freshman of the Year award following the conclusion of the Big Ten Championships on March 18.

As a freshman, Nikki said that she does not know what to expect from the NCAA Pittsburgh Regionals coming up this weekend, but she is trying to focus on remaining consistent across the board and being there to support her teammates.

Despite the uncertainty of what’s to come during regionals, the Smith sisters will absolutely have one familiar constant in Pittsburgh—their parents. Nikki said that her parents, Antoinette and Jason Smith, make it to watch her and Nyah during every single meet, even away ones. Their parents even took the long drive down to Tuscaloosa for the team’s first meet of the season against Alabama, and will once again be hopping in the car to support their daughters at regionals.

Michigan State will be competing in the first session of the Pittsburgh regional semi-finals at 2 p.m. on Friday, March 31 against No. 7 California, West Virginia and Western Michigan. Regionals will be streamed on ESPN+.

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