Spartans Fall Short on Senior Night
Illinois defeated MSU by a final score of 196.350-194.550, despite Spartans’ season-high 49.050 on beam.
EAST LANSING, Mich. -- Michigan State fell to Big Ten foe Illinois on Saturday night at Jenison Field House. The Illini outscored the Spartans by a 196.350-194.550 margin and retained the Victory Plank with the win.
Highlighting the Spartans’ team score was a season-high 49.050 on beam, marking the first time that MSU has topped the 49.0 mark this season on the apparatus.
The Spartans celebrated their seniors both before and after the match, as the senior parents escorted their gymnasts into the arena during introductions and each of the senior gymnasts and the managers were honored after the meet. Managers Sam Bielecki and Jessie Livingston, student coach Lindsey Lemke, and gymnasts Hailee Westney, Tessa Jaranowski, Victoria Huehn and Anna Gamelo were celebrated for their contributions to the gymnastics program.
“The senior class has been the most stable as far as the glue that holds everybody together because they’ve been here the whole ride. This was the class that I came in with – I didn’t recruit them, but I came in with them – they’ve grown as young ladies immensely. For example, Hailee Westney when she came in here as a freshman used to call her parents 12 times a day, she wanted to make sure that they were coping okay without her, she’s not like that anymore. She’s grown up a little bit,” said head coach Mike Rowe. “To watch these kids transition and grow from the first day they get here until when they graduate; it’s sad, but the fact of the matter is it’s a revolving door. It goes so fast and it’s over before you know it. Fortunately we get to come back for B1G Five in Jenison Field House and I think that’s going to be even more special because then they can really put the cherry on top.”
Freshman Lea Mitchell won the all-around title, posting an impressive 39.175. Illinois had two all-around competitors in Nicole Biondi in second with a 39.075, and Rae Balthazor was third with a 38.975. Mitchell was the first-place finisher on the floor and had a personal best 9.850 on beam.
Illinois swept the top four positions on vault, earning a 49.075 team score and Kasey Meeks taking the event title with a 9.850. Freshman Michelina Lupinetti was MSU’s top finisher, recording a 9.775 for fifth place. Mitchell recorded a 9.725, and Jaranowski followed with a personal record of 9.700. Rounding out the Spartan competitors was freshman Isabelle Wittebort (9.550) and Huehn, who stepped up in the lineup as a late addition due to an injury to junior Roya Shirley during warm-ups, and earned a 9.525. MSU had a team score of 48.275 in the first rotation.
“It started out on vault when Roya (Shirley) went down with an injury. For the girls to do what they did tonight after one of your all-arounders, a tough all-arounder, goes down, it kind of takes the wind out of your sails,” added Rowe. “They still rallied and went on to have a decent meet, but we’re looking at replacing 9.8’s four times on those events and that’s tough to do. They were resilient and the kids that stepped up, stepped up and did the best that they could. Beam was our high event score today which was excellent. The word this week was ‘teamwork’ and every day they’ve been trying to have each other’s back and get up and step up and I think that’s exactly what they showed today. The score doesn’t really show what we’ve accomplished as a program, but we’re really happy with that.”
Westney and Jessica Ling shared the bars title, each scoring a 9.825. Karen Howell and Rae Balthazor also recorded the same score for the Illini, forcing a four-way tie for first place in the event. Illinois earned the team win with a 48.975, edging out MSU, which posted a 48.925. Lea Mitchell was third for the Spartans with a 9.775, while Jaranowski posted a second consecutive personal best with a 9.750. Anne Maxim (9.750) tied for eighth with Jaranowski, and Tristan Brown rounded out the Spartan five with a 9.725.
“There are a lot of mixed emotions about Senior Night. Happy, sad, feelings of being proud, nerves too, but overall, I’m just very, very privileged to be on this team and to be representing MSU as a senior,” said Westney. “I’m just thankful for my team, my coaches, my family and my friends because I couldn’t have gone this far without them. That love and support has really motivated me to keep going.”
Illinois swept the top three finishes on beam and earned a 49.300 team score. Bridget Hodan (9.925) and Karen Howell (9.900) led the way for the Illini. The Spartans had a strong effort nonetheless, scoring a season-best 49.050 and having four athletes scoring 9.8 or better. Mitchell and Westney posted identical 9.850 scores to tie for fourth, with Mitchell’s score standing as her career best. Molly Hoerner-O’Malley was right behind with a 9.825 for sixth place overall. Lupinetti was fourth among Spartans with a 9.800, and Huehn earned a 9.725 to cap the MSU effort.
“It definitely added another dynamic to the environment in it being Senior Night. You try not to think about the fact that it’s your final regular season meet in Jenison,” said Huehn. “I just thought about it as another meet to keep my nerves down and then once my performance was over I really thought about Senior Night and it was really exciting. It was a good time.”
Mitchell’s performance on the floor earned her a shared title, as she posted a 9.825 in MSU’s final routine of the night. She shared the first-place score with Kylie Noonan and Karen Howell from Illinois, which posted a 49.000 in the event. The Spartans had just five competitors due to injury, and Brittany Chappell was injured during her routine. This further handicapped the Spartans, who finished with a 48.300 in the event. Drew Hendershot was second among Spartans and fourth overall with a 9.800, and Hoerner-O’Malley was fourth for MSU and eighth overall with a 9.750.
The Spartans hit the road for the next three weeks, first traveling to Iowa State for a tri-meet with the Cyclones and Minnesota.
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