Owls finish third in ECACs

The title was split for first time in conference history, between Brown and William & Mary.

Jean Alban was in the middle of her floor exercise at the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference championships on Saturday at McGonigle Hall.  On one of her first dismounts of her routine, she landed square on her butt.  The mistake cost her, as she mustered an 8.850 in the event.

But when Alban faltered, her teammates had her back.  All of the next five girls hit their routines, resulting in Temple’s best event score of 48.325.  The mark was the best floor score of all six teams competing in the ECAC championships, and three Owls made the podium as a result.  Reagan Oliveri finished tied for sixth (9.650), Lauren Capone finished third (9.725), and Jasmine Johnson took home the gold with a score of 9.775.

“Before [the event], I had captain Heather [Zaniewski] tap my chest a little bit and I said, ‘I need your help calming me down,’” Johnson said.  “Because my heart was beating really fast.  And she just said, ‘This is our equipment, you know how to do this.’ So I just took what she said to heart, and went out and did what I had to do.”

Johnson’s performance was one of the individual highlights of a Temple squad that took third as a team in the championships, with a tally of 191.775.  Cornell finished as runners-up with a score of 192.350, and for the first time in ECAC women’s gymnastics history, the title was split as William & Mary and Brown finished deadlocked at 193.600.

“This conference is extremely competitive,” coach Aaron Murphy said.  “I said to my assistant [Deirdre Mattocks] the other day, ‘Man, when all six of our teams enter the arena, anyone of us could win it.’  And to know that it was a tie, when it comes down to a tenth of a point, you’d think we would be able to separate that.  But nope, here we are and Brown and William & Mary took it.”

A factor that would seem to help the Owls moving ahead is their youth. Johnson will be back as a fifth-year senior next year.  Capone will be back for her senior year as well.  Oliveri, who competed as an all-arounder numerous times, is a junior next season.

One of the youngest members on the team is freshman Briana Odom.  When other team members went down to injury, she picked up the slack and started competing as an all-arounder.  It culminated at the ECAC championships as she was the only Owl to compete in all four events, hitting all four of her routines for a total of 38.475.

Even Odom has been amazed with her immediate success at the college level.

“I surprised myself doing this good my freshman year, so I think I can only go up from here,” Odom said.

Murphy was also impressed with the freshman’s performance, and picked her as the “MVP” of the meet due to the fact that she hit all four of her events and stayed cool under pressure.

Among the crowd at McGonigle Hall on Saturday was most of the men’s gymnastics team, which showed its support.  Although Turoff’s squad is slated to be cut after this season, the two teams are still very close.

“They’re just like my brother,” Johnson said.  “I have an older brother at home so they know that when I come to school they’re supposed to take care of me as if I’m their little sister.  It was just great to see them out there, I could see them cheering for us.  It’s just awesome.  We all know we’re still going to be friends with them and I love them to death.”

The men’s team even leant a hand during the competition.

“I actually had six of them come in and be squad leaders for the whole competition,” Murphy said.  “And they volunteered to do that for us.  It just shows the love between the men and the women is still there.”

Temple will look to improve on this year’s performance next year.  According to Murphy, the team has four more freshmen coming in next year to replace the four seniors set to leave after this season.

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steven.bohnel@temple.edu or on Twitter @SteveSportsGuy1.

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