No. 13 Spartans defeat Penn State with fourth-highest score in program history


Sarah Smith

Sage Kellerman flips on the beam during Michigan State’s 197.450-195.475 victory over Penn State on February 4, 2023. Photo Credit: Sarah Smith/WDBM

Faith Flickinger, Volleyball and Gymnastics Beat Reporter

EAST LANSING– No. 13 Michigan State competed against Penn State in an exhilarating meet on Saturday night. The Spartans recorded a season-high score, and the fourth-highest in program history of 197.450. MSU head coach Mike Rowe was thrilled with the results of the meet. 

“It feels amazing, especially only going into week five,” Rowe said. 

Rowe expressed he was happy with the team’s progress, and said he understands the team’s mindset. “They felt like they had unfinished business from last year and they mean it,” Rowe said. 

The competition started with MSU on vault and PSU on uneven parallel bars. The Spartans dominated on vault, led by sophomore Gabrielle Stephen, who scored a 9.925. 

The Nittany Lions had a slow start on bars. Sophomore Jessica Johanson had a fall but still managed a 9.675. Their highest score on bars was a 9.850 from senior Cassidy Rushlow. 

Going into the second rotation MSU held the lead, 49.350-48.875. The Spartans had a fall on bars from senior Jori Jackard, but were able to still remain in control of the event and meet. PSU also made a little bit of groundwork with a 9.925 on vault from freshman Ava Piedrahita. 

The second rotation ended with MSU holding a .750 lead. Vault concluded with Stephen and Piedrahita tied for the event. For bars, freshman Nikki Smith secured the event with a score of 9.925.

Next up, the Spartans went to the balance beam and the Nittany Lions went to the floor. MSU had a few bobbles on beam and a fall from freshman Olivia Zsarmani. 

 “If Olivia wasn’t nursing a wounded ankle right now, she’d have been all around and in the hunt with the rest of them, ” Rowe said. 

Despite Zsarmani’s injury, junior Baliegh Garcia scored a 9.925 in the event and the Spartans walked away with a 49.275 on beam. The Nittany Lions had a few step-outs and mistakes that hindered the rest of the lineup. Their highest score for the event was a 9.825 from Piedrahita and sophomore Isabella Salcedo. 

Entering the final rotation, MSU held a 1.325 on PSU. 148.025-146.700. The Nittany Lions picked up a little slack on beam, but it still wasn’t enough to close the gap the Spartans had created. PSU walked away with a score of 48.775 on beam. 

The Spartans were electric on floor. The lowest recorded score, excluding Delanie Harkness’ 9.500, was a 9.850 from Smith. Skyla Shulte scored a 9.925 to clench the event and for beam, Garcia took the event with her 9.925.

The meet closed out with the Spartans winning by 1.975. The final score was 197.450-195.475. 

For all-around, fourth place was Piedrahita with a score of 39.350. Third place was Smith with a score of 39.450. Second place was Schulte with a score of 39.475. And the first-place title went to Stephen with a score of 39.575. 

Stephen was excited about being able to take first place all around. 

“We’ve been working out a lot of small details on all of my routines,” Stephen said.  “And so seeing those come out in my routines today was so amazing and so exciting.”

“I think the team has worked a lot to separate ourselves from what other people think and what the media thinks we’re going to do,” Stephen said, “and focus on what we know we can do, and not letting that influence how we practice and how we compete.”

Up next, MSU will travel to Iowa City to compete against Iowa on Saturday, Feb. 11 at 6 p.m. ET.