Owls expect to bounce back from last year with experienced roster

Temple Women’s Gymnastics is putting themselves in position to make noise this season.

Temple Gymnastics looks to bounce-back after last seasons struggles with the help of a new coach and an experienced roster. | ROBERT JOSEPH CRUZ / THE TEMPLE NEWS

After years of dominance, Temple Gymnastics expected another strong season in 2022-23 and had their sights set on a ticket to regionals. Instead, the Owls found themselves in unfamiliar territory, finishing near the bottom of the conference.

The Owls finished in fifth place at regionals, and former head coach Josh Nilson unexpectedly resigned after five years with the program. Now, the Owls will go back to the drawing board after an underwhelming season.

Following Nilson’s resignation, former assistant coach Hilary Steele was named interim head coach in May, then the permanent head coach a month later. The players have bought into Steele’s system and she’s ready to lead the Owls to a bounce-back-season after their lowest placing since 2018.

“When I took on the interim role, I took it upon myself to approach it as if I were the head coach because I was acting as the head coach,” Steele said. “So, out of respect for the program, and for those girls, I needed to take on the role as if it was mine.”

Despite the coaching change, the Owls still expect to build off of their late-season momentum and toward their first East Atlantic Gymnastics League Championship since 2021.

In the offseason, the team proposed goals for their upcoming season, with the hope they can help build consistency after an up-and-down 2022-23 season.

The Owls’ main objective has always been a regional championship. Temple is returning an experienced roster, headlined by multiple gymnasts who qualified for individual regionals last season.

“We set goals at the very beginning of the year during our retreat,” Steele said. “Their number one goal this year is to enjoy the process because normally we’re focused on the results, so this year, we’re going to focus on the steps of getting there and having fun along the way and enjoy ourselves.”

One of the most notable returning gymnasts is senior Brooke Donabedian, who is looking to follow up her impressive 2022-23 season that ended with a ticket to regionals on Floor.

The Owls lacked consistency last season, as they struggled to find their footing. The slow start put the Owls in a hole they couldn’t climb out of, finishing last in the conference.

“Consistency is what I’m looking for in myself,” Donabedian said. “Being in bars lineup, consistency on floor and beam, breaking the record on floor would be nice.”

Donabedian is joined by returning juniors and twin sisters Hannah and Sarah Stallings. The two train together and credit their strong relationship as a guide to help them succeed.

“It’s fun because we can always encourage one another,” Sarah Stallings said. “We know where our weaknesses and strengths are so we can see and pick up when we’re having a bad day and how we can encourage each other specifically.” 

Sarah Stallings competed in three events last season, with her speciality being on bars. Her best performance came on Feb. 19, where she put up a 9.000 on bars, a career high and the third best score in Temple history.

Renee Schugman is also returning to the platform for the Owls. Since arriving on North Broad in 2021, Schugman has taken the EAGL by storm, achieving multiple league honors.

Schugam was named to the All-EAGL first team, EAGL all-tournament first team and EAGL all-scholastic team and joined Donabedian at regionals after her junior year. Now, her goal is to stay the course and build on last year’s success.

“My goal is to get a 9.900 on beam this year,” Schugam said. “And for the team, I want to be regular season champs, and also make regionals which would be great to do as a team.”

The Owls also brought in new faces they hope will give them an extra boost to contend this season. The team brought in 10 freshmen to the program after losing multiple gymnasts who graduated and entered the transfer portal.

With a crop of new faces, having two successful upperclassmen on the team has paid off, as Donobedian and Schugman have helped the young gymnasts adjust to the collegiate level.

“I try to lead by example,” Schugman said. “It’s important because I can’t expect them to do something if I’m not doing it myself. Holding everyone accountable, regardless of grade, and listening to everyone is also important.”

With the season less than two months away, the Owls hope their mix of experience and young gymnasts help the team build off last year’s end-of-season success. Temple will open their season against Penn and Penn State in the Keystone Classic on Jan. 5 at The Palestra.

“Just hoping for an overall really good season,” Donabedian said. “I hope the team does really well and I hope we’re season champs.”

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