EAST LANSING – Michigan State is emerging as the gymnastics program to beat in the Big Ten. It earned its first Big Ten regular-season championship and was just 0.150 points away from advancing to the NCAA Championship Semifinals last year.
MSU head coach Mike Rowe thinks this year’s team can go anywhere.
“I don’t think there is [a ceiling],” Rowe said. “And I’m being so honest because they surprise me every week.”
The goal is always a national championship.
The rise has not been without hard times. The Spartans had made the NCAA’s in 2016 and did not get back until 2022. The Spartans had a zero in the win column against Big Ten competition in consecutive seasons in 2017 and 2018. They had not won in Ann Arbor since 1990 until they bested the No. 11 Michigan Wolverines on Feb. 4 this year.
When asked about what has caused the program’s improvement under his tenure, Rowe said, “We’re learning every day, and we’re trying things and throwing things out that we don’t think work and so we’re evolving. We’re constantly evolving.”
The evolution can be seen in MSU’s future as well. CollegeGymNews ranked Michigan State’s current freshman class fifth in the nation. Last year it was seventh. Many significant contributors are from those classes.
“I think it’s been very visible to how much fun the team is having on the floor when people see us on TV and stuff,” Rowe said. “So we’re getting four and five-star recruits coming in that want to be a part of a fun program.”
Standing in the way Friday was No. 25 Illinois. MSU clinched its Big Ten title in Champaign, Illinois against the Illini last year.
This time, the Spartans posted the higher score in all four rotations, winning 197.475-196.175.
MSU now sits at 7-3 overall and 4-0 in Big Ten competition. All three teams to best the Spartans are ranked in the top five nationally.
The Spartans’ 197.475 might not look very impressive next to the 198.050 they just had against Michigan, but it certainly is.
“198 last week was a big surprise. But coming today thinking, ‘shoot, we can do that at home.’ Well obviously we didn’t, but 197.475 is a great score for your second home meet,” Rowe explained.
Friday’s result is tied for MSU’s second-best performance this year and eleventh all-time. The top 18 scores in program history have come in the last three seasons.
Star junior Skyla Schulte helped lead the way for the Spartans. The Illinois native won the all-around category for the meet with 39.475 points, recording 9.875 in the vault, beam, and floor along with a 9.850 on the bars.
Nikki Smith recorded the highest individual score for a single rotation on the night on the floor for the Spartans, receiving a 9.950. The sophomore had previously received the coveted 10.000 against Iowa in the same event on Jan. 28.
Sophomore Sage Kellerman came out on top during the vault for Michigan State. She has received two 10s for that event this year, one coming in the win in Ann Arbor. A 9.925 score was enough for this go-around.
The uneven parallel bars went to MSU senior Delanie Harkness. She also received a 9.925, just shy of her season-high of 9.950.
Illinois’ Mia Takekawa led the way on the balance beam with a 9.950.
She did not win any of the categories, but Gabrielle Stephen also logged a good day for MSU. The junior from Illinois had a season-high on both the beam and the floor, scoring 9.925 and 9.900, respectively.
The Spartans will have ample time to rest before they face competition again. Maryland comes to East Lansing on Feb. 18 at 2 p.m. before they face four other teams in the Big Five Meet on Feb. 23 at 6 p.m.