It’s the end of the line for the men’s gymnastics team at the Division I level.
After the Board of Trustees voted to cut the program in December and upheld the decision in February, the Owls are preparing for what will be their final Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference Championships on Friday in Annapolis, Md.
Coach Fred Turoff said he has other things on his mind.
“I’m going to be figuring out how to move stuff out of my office,” Turoff said. “Where am I going to put it all?”
Temple has won the ECAC title the past two seasons, including when the Owls hosted the conference championship in 2012.
This year, things are shaping up differently. From day one, Turoff has seen William & Mary as the conference favorite. The Tribe are headed by seniors London Funiciello and Daniel Potemski and sophomore Neal Courter.
Funiciello is the defending ECAC champion on the parallel bars, and earned silver at the NCAA championships on rings last year. Potemski is the co-defending conference champion on the floor exercise, along with Army’s Kip Webber. Courter was the ECAC champion on both floor and vault last year, along with being an All-American on the floor.
“Their routines have higher start values than ours,” Turoff said. “So right away they have an advantage. And they’re performing them pretty well. So my observation of them at several meets is they have a good team that’s performing cleanly.”
“If a team has a .1 higher start value on all their routines, then right away they’re three points higher than we are,” Turoff added. “So if they’re .5 above us, then they’re 15 points better than us. So it’s hard to make that up in execution.”
Cleaning up routines will be important for Temple leading up to the team finals on Friday. But even if all goes according to plan, Turoff said he believes his team is in a fight for fourth place with Chicago-Illinois and Springfield.
One of the reasons for the team’s decline in performance is the fact that Turoff graduated 14 of his 15 gymnasts that were in most of his lineups the past two seasons. The result is a young team that is still adjusting to the sport at the collegiate level.
“The reasoning for [lower scoring] is the freshman class,” co-captain Scott Haddaway said. “They have nerves for that first year, but then they push through it and get over it. They tend to grow up pretty quick.”
This same team will seek to exceed expectations in Annapolis. Injured co-captain John Leonard said he sees potential in his squad.
“Our start values are pretty similar to most of the teams in the ECAC,” Leonard said. “We just have to pull it together. We really haven’t had a real good ‘hit’ meet yet this season. If we’re able to do that at the ECACs, I think we can break into the Top 3.”
Sophomore Evan Eigner has been a consistent performer on the rings all year, and is the only Owl to score above a 15 in any event this year. His season high was at the Navy Open on Jan. 25, when he scored a 15.05.
While Eigner said staying positive and being confident are important to his success, his focus also remains on his team’s last performance at the Division I level.
“It’s been amazing,” Eigner said. “What I’ve experienced in my time at Temple along with all the other guys here, words can’t really describe that. So for ECACs, we want to go out, if this is our last event as a varsity [team], and do the best we can do.”
Turoff also noted that anywhere from three to six guys could advance to the conference’s individual finals on Saturday. Sophomore Jon Rydzefski, who reached the finals on the horizontal bars last year, is coming off a season-high in the all-around with 83.8 at Ohio State. On the pommel horse, junior Mike Bittner and senior Brendan Williams have been scoring above 14, which would be good enough to make the cut.
The pommel horse, however, has been the weakness for Temple this season, as the Owls haven’t had a meet without someone falling during the event.
“When a guy misses his dismount, that just tells me he’s tired with his routine and hasn’t done enough routines to build up his endurance,” Turoff said. “So I guess when they get to the meet, they haven’t yet learned to channel their energy well.”
One aspect that could help Temple is that it has already competed at Navy twice. Being familiar with the equipment and the atmosphere of the crowd, the experience in Annapolis could pay dividends for the Owls.
“They just have to focus on what they’re doing,” Turoff said. “They know the hotel is a nice place, and the breakfast is good. They know the town is good, so just go ahead and have fun in the gym.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @SteveSportsGuy1.