It’s the first Thursday back from winter break for most, but for coach Fred Turoff’s men’s gymnastics team, the spring season is already underway. The Owls are 3-0 after defeating conference rivals Army and Southern Connecticut, as well as James Madison in a dual meet this past weekend.
The season is new, but the Owls are ready to defend their Eastern College Athletic Conference Championship and hold onto the ECAC trophy for a third consecutive year.
Practices are usually a highly regimented and goal-oriented 2 1/2 hours. The start of practices is no light matter. Twenty-four team members, minus two or three pivotal members sidelined with injuries, form a large circle around the edge of the practice mat in Pearson Hall.
When the ring becomes impeccably circular, as judged by senior co-captains Toros Torcomian and Stephen Smith, each member performs a textbook backflip executed flawlessly. The landings are stuck solidly or must be done again. It seems like a simple warm-up exercise, but it speaks for the entire mentality of this year’s squad.
“For us, it’s all about taking it one routine at a time, one event at a time,” Smith said last Thursday during practice, where he awaited his turn on the pommel horse, an event the team does not consider its strongest this season. “If we take it just like that, routine by routine, event by event, we should be just fine.”
And so the Owls refuse to move on during their early-practice exercise until each trick is perfectly mastered. They are anxious to get on with practice and rehearse their individual routines, but the team must realize two things: First, the flip must be flipped effectively, and second, the conference cannot be won without winning each meet individually.
“In the ECAC, Temple gymnastics is, honestly, a power conference-wise,” Turoff said, who is in his 28th year of coaching his alma mater.
“We’ve been fortunate to win 14 of the past 17 championships,” he added between directing constructive criticism at the gymnasts on the floor. “So we’ve always fared well within our conference, and generally have sent numerous individuals to the NCAA Championships.”
But the athletes utter not a single word concerning their individual goals, and take little satisfaction in settling for two straight titles. Torcomian, in his first year as team captain, does not want to see the trophy lost on his watch.
“From the outside pressures, I feel – we all feel, in fact – that we’re the underdogs,” Torcomian said in between practice vaults. The senior competes in vault and rings, most likely the team’s strongest events this year. ”
Going into every meet, even though we are the defending ECAC Champions, we still have something to prove to everybody else – that we are going to hold onto the title.”
“Either you stop getting better, or you’re really damn good,” junior Nyika White said, who was an All-American and placed third on the rings at the NCAA National Championships last year. “If it’s me that’s not falling, hopefully I’m the second.”
White’s right elbow was wrapped in a protective pad, and he missed the James Madison meet with elbow tendonitis. When he returns, he will join fellow junior David Ramos in forming one of the premier third-year tandems in the NCAA.
Torcomian and Smith know their first job as co-captains are to be motivators.
“I just can’t stress enough how much of a mental year this is going to be for us,” Smith said while his strong index finger tapped his temple. “If we lose it up here, we’re going to lose it out there,” he said, gesturing to the trophy case that holds Temple’s 2003 ECAC Championship trophy.
Benjamin Watanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.