The freshmen are led by all-arounder Jean Alban, who has posted three Top 5 finishes and who topped the team in the all-around last Friday.
Freshmen are supposed to be the future of their teams, not the present. But that is not the case for this year’s women’s gymnastics team.
Temple’s freshman class, which is led by rising star Jean Alban, has provided an immediate impact for a squad whose members believe it can win the Eastern College Athletic Conference Championship this year. The Owls finished in third place, behind Maryland and host Penn, in last Friday’s Penn Quad-meet with a season-high score of 191.025. Alban led the team with a 37.725 score in the all-around.
Alban, Brittany Clark and Margaret Walch have been regular contributors all season. Walch has been a mainstay in floor exercise, where she has averaged a 9.3 this season, while Clark has been a consistent threat on vault. She posted a season-high 9.625 on the vault at Bridgeport but has also competed on the parallel bars in several meets.
“I never dreamed that I would get to compete this much my freshman year,” Walch said in an e-mail interview.
Alban has been a regular all-arounder who has posted three Top 5 finishes in her first season. Her 37.525-point performance in the all-around at Ursinus on Jan. 24 earned her a fifth-place finish and the ECAC Rookie of the Week.
“Even though I was caught off guard with the [ECAC Rookie of the Week] announcement, it made me feel like I was doing something right,” Alban said.
Coach Aaron Murphy said he trusts his young gymnasts in big meets and believed they were ready from the beginning.
“I knew all along that these girls would have an immediate impact both in and out of the gym,” Murphy said.
Alban, Clark and Walch are just half the story, however. The fortunes of freshmen Ebone Grant, Avery Iudice and Natalie Kahler have been much different.
Kahler began the season in rehabilitation after she dislocated her right elbow last year. After she finished that rehabilitation, she dislocated her left elbow, which all but ended her season before it got started.
“It’s not much fun working on rehab and learning how to straighten an elbow again during practice when everyone else is doing routines,” Kahler said. “I want to be out there with them.”
Iudice had surgery last week to repair her anterior cruciate ligament and was unavailable for comment. Grant has also had to deal with ACL issues.
“Between having to do what felt like hours of rehab each day at practice and just the pain that comes with the [ACL] injury even after the surgery being months ago is frustrating and tough,” Grant said.
Grant is the only one of those three freshmen who has competed this season. She returned on Feb. 27 at West Chester and participated in the parallel bars apparatus. She posted a score of 8.575.
Despite the two-sided story, Murphy said he sees a lot of potential in the group, which has come a long way since the beginning of the season. Alban and Clark looked back at their first meets and recalled how nervous they were compared to now.
“I’m laughing…because I will never forget [it],” Alban said. “I was so nervous I gave myself a bloody nose.”
“I remember having butterflies in my stomach when it came time for me to compete,” Clark added.
Thankfully, veteran teammates, like seniors Nina Oteri and Danielle Viens, have been there to help the freshmen all season.
“Nina and Dani are super role models and beautiful gymnasts,” Walch said.
“They are both very supportive of everybody and are always there to give words of wisdom to us younger ones on the team,” Grant added.
Murphy said the freshmen have already overcome one of the toughest obstacles – the transition to college gymnastics.
“In club gymnastics, it’s all about your last name, but in college, it’s about the team and the school’s name,” Murphy said.
The Owls said they understand the team concept and know the smallest details matter more now than ever.
“At this point in every season, routines are down to the little, nitty-gritty details and clean up with form,” Kahler said.
The attention to detail is even more pivotal as the season draws to an end, bumps and bruises become more painful, and the ECAC Championship approaches.
“I am a little nervous,” Walch said. “I mean, it is my first conference meet, and all season, we have been saying that we have the ability to be great and win ECACs.”
“At Conference, I just want my freshmen to approach the meet like any other [meet] at this point,” Murphy said. “They have shown their consistency up till now, and I don’t want to do or say anything to stop that. They are a competitive class, and I think they will do just fine in a couple weeks.”
The freshmen and the rest of the Temple women’s gymnastics team will compete March 27 in the ECAC Championship at McGonigle Hall.
Jake Adams can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.