In a surprise twist, the Owls earned the 12th and final team spot at the NCAA Championships despite placing behind the University of Illinois-Chicago last weekend.
The Temple men’s gymnastics team finished in second place at the Eastern College Athletic Conference Championships last Friday and Saturday at Williamsburg, Va. At the time, that second-place finish all but assured Temple that it would not compete as a team in the NCAA Championships.
However, on the ride back from William & Mary’s Kaplan Arena, coach Fred Turoff received notification that 12th-ranked Air Force did not perform up to expectations at its conference tournament. That reversal of fortune made Temple the 12th and final team to qualify for the NCAA Championships.
“This is obviously a big surprise,” Turoff said. “We were not expecting that at all. We are very excited and will try and make the most of this opportunity.”
The Owls had won the ECAC Championship two of the last three years. Last year, they finished second to the University of Illinois-Chicago, and the result was the same this season. The Owls finished the team competition with a score of 339.350. UIC finished with a score of 343.450.
“That was a big disappointment,” Turoff said. “We knew the competition was going to be really tough. We did everything we could. It just wasn’t meant to be.”
The Owls did pick up some first-place individual honors during the team competition last Friday, however.
Senior Jesse Kitzen-Abelson finished in a first-place tie on the pommel horse with a score of 14.400. Kitzen-Abelson tied William & Mary’s senior Derek Gygax.
Senior Scott Bloomfield also brought home a first-place trophy in the vault competition. Bloomfield finished with a score of 15.700 and narrowly edged out UIC senior Andrew Stover, who tallied a score of 15.650.
“This win gave me a lot of confidence heading into the individual play. I really felt confident heading into that competition,” Bloomfield said.
Junior Blake Collins picked up a fifth-place overall finish with a score of 84.650 last Friday. That score earned Collins the Most Improved Athlete Award for the 2010 Eastern Intercollegiate Gymnastics League season. Collins picked up the only postseason award that did not go to UIC.
UIC took home the Senior of the Year (Stover), Rookie of the Year (Kyle Voissem), Coach of the Year (CJ Johnson) and Assistant Coach of the Year (Charley Nelson).
“After [originally] not qualifying [as a team] on Friday, we knew that we had to have some outstanding performances on Saturday in order to make this a successful weekend,” Turoff said.
The Owls earned multiple first-place finishes last Saturday in the individual competition. Qualifiers for the individual portion of the NCAA Championships will be announced today at noon, and Turoff said he is hopeful that a few of his gymnasts will be selected to go to West Point, N.Y., April 15-17.
“I will let the team know at practice that day who will be going to the Championships,” Turoff said. “I fully expect that we will be represented. The question is how many representatives will we have.”
Bloomfield shined again last Saturday. He finished in first place on the vault once again, this time with a slightly better score of 16.000. Bloomfield also placed second in the floor exercise and eighth in the parallel bars.
“I had really high expectations of myself heading into this competition,” Bloomfield said. “I feel I performed really well. I feel that I finally have star value. I fully anticipate that I will be going to the NCAAs.”
Kitzen-Abelson tied for third place with William & Mary junior Andy Hunter on the pommel horse with a score of 13.950. Junior David Mohr of UIC won the event with a score of 14.550.
Collins also finished in a tie for third place in the rings event with a score of 14.100. UIC’s senior all-arounder Nikolai Korepanov claimed the title with a score of 15.150.
Sophomore Taylor Brana narrowly edged out sophomore Ty Evans of Springfield College in the parallel bars. Brana earned a score of 14.000 compared to Evans’ 13.900. Brana said the win surprised even him.
“Coming into this competition, I knew it was going to be very difficult,” Brana said. “I was actually very surprised to make the finals. I was really lucky. This was my best routine of the year.”
“I was really happy with how we played on Saturday,” Turoff added. “This is the highest we have scored, and I was really happy with the performance.”
Ryan Rosengrant can be reached at email@example.com.