Before going to Stanford for the NCAA Championships over the weekend, senior Luke Vexler refused to let the men’s gymnastics team be overlooked.
Coach Fred Turoff, though, knew it was surreal to imagine his No. 13-ranked Owls — No. 12 on the list of teams at Stanford — giving the elite teams in California too much of a challenge.
Unfortunately for Temple, it was its 32-year coach that was right.
The talent in Stanford was too much for the Owls.
While Temple managed a score of 333.00, it was the Oklahoma Sooners that got to celebrate on Stanford’s home floor, edging the host Cardinals, 363.200-362.750. It was Oklahoma’s fifth title in seven years.
“We went in 12th place, finished in 12th place,” Turoff said Sunday while the team was taking a tour of Stanford’s campus.
“We performed pretty well,” Vexler said. “Did some good things, some bad things.”
Despite the team’s last-place finish, a few Owls made it to the individual finals on Saturday — seniors Vexler and Sterling Kramer and sophomore Scott Bloomfield — as Turoff expected.
Vexler placed fifth in the all-around contest with a score of 84.650 Friday, while Kramer and Bloomfield each finished in the top 15 on the parallel bars and the vault, respectively, to qualify for the finals.
“It was a bit of an improvement,” Turoff said referring to the fact that the Owls had three athletes in the individual finals. “Last year we had two, the year before we had one.”
But all three struggled Saturday.
Vexler finished No. 13 in the all-around, Kramer No. 28 on parallel bars and Bloomfield No. 12 on the vault.
Although he and his teammates struggled, Kramer had a positive attitude about the experience.
“I missed the all-around by a couple of tenths, but to even make it on the [parallel] bars, I was happy,” the New Jersey native said. “The parallel bars are judged the hardest, so what a way to go into the final championship.”
Vexler had trouble reflecting on the NCAA Championships in an upbeat way. Primarily because, like Kramer, it marked the end of his collegiate career.
“It doesn’t feel too good,” the Eastern College Athletic Conference Senior of the Year said. “I’m going to miss it.”
And while Vexler will miss his run with Temple, Turoff will miss his seniors.
“Luke and Sterling are moving on,” Turoff said. “I’m always sad to have seniors leave the team, [but] it’s something as a coach you’re used to. You only get these guys a small amount of time. I’m always happy they spent the time with me.”
But their time together is not over.
“They still have one more meet and possibly more,” Turoff said. “We’re going to Colorado Springs, Colo. for the [U.S. Olympic] qualifier competition on Wednesday.”
If either or both of the Owls are able to get past the top-notch competition in Colorado, a trip to the Visa Championships in Houston, which start May 22, would be next.
The seniors are just taking it one challenge at a time, though.
“I’m going to go [to Colorado], and do my routines,” Vexler said. “Then I’m going to try to graduate, continue to train. Hopefully, my body stays healthy, and then I don’t know what I’ll be doing.”
“Because it’s my last meet, I’ve got nothing to lose,” Kramer said. “I’m going in there really aggressive.”
For Turoff, his next challenge will be replacing the seniors.
“We have [juniors] John Vogtman and Nick Iles,” Turoff said. “We’ll have two or three good incoming gymnasts, worthwhile recruits.
“Competition in our conference is tough, and I expect it to remain tough.”
Though Kramer is sad to see his collegiate career come to a close, the memories will last a lifetime.
“It was an amazing experience,” he said. “Got to pick up friends, and getting the chance to lead the team, being one of many leaders, was a great experience.”
Jeff Appelblatt can be reached at email@example.com.