Junior Blake Collins, who was cut from Temple his freshman year, has stepped in for injured senior Patrick McLaughlin in the all-around for the first time.
One more week separates the men’s gymnastics team from the chance to reclaim the title in the Eastern College Athletic Conference Championship.
Temple, led by coach Fred Turoff, appears to be heading in the right direction as it gears up to reclaim the trophy it once held two years in a row. The Owls won back-to-back championships in the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 seasons but fell short last year at West Point, N.Y.
The loss was “very disappointing but also very encouraging and motivating. Hopefully, we come back with some hardware [this year],” junior Blake Collins said.
The Owls have taken the loss to heart and have won six of their eight meets this season.
The last four victories have been more of a struggle after losing all-arounder Patrick McLaughlin for the season on Feb. 13. The senior co-captain, considered one of the best all-arounders in the conference, dislocated his ankle and tore several soft tissues around it. He had surgery last week to repair the damage. The Owls are waiting for a ruling by the NCAA eligibility committee to determine if McLaughlin can return next season because of “hardship.”
“Patrick has left some very big shoes to fill,” Collins said.
Losing McLaughlin has left a void on the scoreboard, despite the team’s efforts to replace his production. The Owls’ anchor had top finishes in the floor exercise, parallel bars and high bar twice, as well as an 87.000 all-around score two weeks before his injury.
“Losing him [McLaughlin] cost us at least eight points [per meet], and it’s brought us down to a number of our rivals,” Turoff said.
Players like sophomore all-arounder Chris Mooney, junior co-captain Jesse Kitzen-Abelson, senior Tyler Croteau and freshmen Allan Malone and Alex Tighe have done their best to fill the void left by McLaughlin.
But the big surprise this year has been the improved performance of Collins, who is seeing his first all-around action this season.
“He has been consistently scoring in the 83-84 range in the all-around, which is a very nice score for his first year competing all-around,” Turoff said.
The up-and-coming all-arounder, listed at just 5 foot, 4 inches, has been an inspiration for the Owls. Cut from the team during his freshman year, Collins was able to make the squad the following year and saw limited action. He now finds himself as one of the catalysts on a team in contention for a title.
“I guess glory be to God,” Collins said. “When you work hard and you prepare and you’re greeted with success, that’s always exciting and welcome.”
His work ethic and his ability to compensate for his size and lack of power in some of the events has impressed Turoff, who was himself a small gymnast for Temple when he won the Eastern Intercollegiate Gymnastics League all-around competition in 1968.
“He’s a little guy, so I have a big spot in my heart for him,” Turoff said.
This season, Collins has placed first in the high bar once and on the rings four times, including a season high 14.650 in the Navy Open. He has done his best to use his success to benefit the team.
“It’s always exciting to finish as the top guy, but when you get to college gymnastics, it becomes more of a team sport,” Collins said. “You want the team to be as successful as possible.”
Collins has helped the team recover some of the momentum it lost following McLaughlin’s injury, but the Owls still have a tough test heading into the ECAC Championship. The University of Illinois at Chicago is considered the favorite.
“We’re gonna make it as tough for them [UIC] to win as possible and as tough for anyone else to beat us as possible,” Turoff said.
Collins and the rest of the Owls will compete for another title in Williamsburg, Va., April 2 to April 3.
“Lord willing, we’re going to bring back the cup,” Collins said.
Jake Adams can be reached at email@example.com.