Before the weekend rolled around, Luke Vexler was eager to get to the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus, where the men’s gymnastics team faced off Saturday in a tri-meet with the Golden Gophers and the Nebraska Cornhuskers.
The senior talked about the opportunity for an historic season.
But any talk about history will have to wait.
The No. 8 Golden Gophers took advantage of its home court and defeated the No. 9 Owls and No. 10 Cornhuskers, finishing with a total of 342.800. The Cornhuskers tallied 341.900, and Temple finished in a distant third with 326.100.
“The team had its worst meet of the season,” Temple’s coach Fred Turoff said. “We had way too many errors, and we’ll probably drop to 12th in the rankings now.”
Twelve is the number the Owls cannot drop below. The top 12 teams make it to NCAA competition.
Before the Owls even took the floor Saturday, they knew they were in for a difficult match.
First on the floor, Minnesota showed it was prepared for its first tri-meet of the season. The Golden Gophers earned their best score of the year on their first rotation with 59.250, led by sophomore Cole Storer, who posted a season-high 14.750.
It didn’t get any easier for Temple.
Vexler managed to place first (14.450) in the rings event and fifth on pommel horse.
Senior Sterling Kramer placed second on the parallel bars (.250 behind first-place), but the best any Owl could do on the horizontal bar was an 11th place finish by junior Jason Russo. The best showing on the vault was an eight place tie between Vexler and sophomore Scott Bloomfield.
Minnesota had just one athlete who participated in all events, while Temple and Nebraska each had two, but it was the Golden Golphers’ lone competitor, sophomore Aaron Furtunato, who was the all-around champion of the meet, totaling 84.700.
“We just weren’t tough,” Vexler said. “We weren’t ourselves. I consider this team mentally and physically tough, and we left that at the door.”
At the same time, Vexler is not worrying about NCAA standings.
“A lot of people are concerned with rankings,” Vexler said. “We need to focus on ourselves, [and] on getting the fire back under us.”
“We need to keep the fire under our butts,” he said. “We had been getting confident, almost cocky, [constantly] winning.”
The Owls have been working around the loss of junior John Vogtman, who tore his ACL while participating in the Winter Cup Challenge in Las Vegas less than a month ago, but they could have inarguably used his talent in Minnesota.
“It’s a little rough,” Vogtman said, while watching his teammates practice in McGonigle Hall on Monday. “I’m trying to keep a good attitude, [but] I feel like I could definitely be contributing to the team right now.”
Last year, Vogtman was named Temple’s most consistent gymnast. His colleagues think he was also the most consistent gymnast on the team this year.
“It’s been real tough [without Vogtman],” Kramer said. “He’s really consistent [and] a really great gymnast. He leaves big shoes to fill.”
But the loss of Vogtman will not bring the Owls’ hopes of repeating as Eastern College Athletic Conference Champions down.
“With him injured, there is the opportunity for other competitors to step up,” Vexler said. “We have the depth to replace him, [so] somebody on this team needs to fill his shoes. I think it’ll happen.”
Nor will the difficult weekend in Minnesota affect the team.
“It was tough to see stuff falling apart,” Kramer said about the meet. “[But] I learned long ago to never give up. We finished off the meet [in Minnesota] much stronger than we started.”
Turoff is ready to move on as well.
“It doesn’t do our psyche good [and] doesn’t make us look good on paper,” he said about the defeat. “It’s just one of those bumps in the road, and we’ll try to get past it.”
The Owls have 11 days to work on avoiding the same hurdles against Navy in Annapolis, Md. on March 15.
Jeff Appelblatt can be reached at email@example.com.