Temple’s status as a postseason invitee was never really in question.
The squad completed a successful 2004 campaign last weekend. Temple was so far ahead of the pack in its conference that a third-place finish at the Atlantic Ten Invitationals on Saturday could not deny it an almost assured bid into the USAG National Invitational Tournament next month in Denton, Texas.
It is Temple’s second straight trip to the NIT, so one might wonder if this year’s team is as anxious as the last.
“Yes,” said senior co-captain Jennifer Beaver after practice Tuesday. “It’s on all of our minds. We think about it every day. I mean, it’s a national competition, so it’s definitely exciting.”
Only three Owls graduated from last year’s squad, which placed fourth at the NIT. The bulk of the roster will go to Texas already having tournament experience, although Beaver and Paige Ozaroski are the team’s only seniors.
Coach Ken Anderson described Ozaroski as the team’s steadying influence, but when asked about the upcoming tournament, she admitted her excitement.
“We went last year and we did really well, and I know we have a really good shot at doing well again this year,” said Ozaroski, one of the Owls’ most consistent performances on vault, bars and beam. “I think we can do even better than we did last year. It’s pretty exciting to come this far in my last year and go to Nationals for my last meet.”
Apart from their sheer enthusiasm, the Owls have a shot at winning the NIT. In addition to building on last year’s success, Anderson presented his pre-tournament analysis that left Temple’s fortunes appearing pretty good.
The NIT, Anderson said, limits its participants to a maximum of seven scholarship participants per team, which is five less than the normal NCAA allowance of 12. Many teams choose to compete with the full 12, but, forfeiting their right to play in the NIT and skewing their opponents’ success – like that of Temple’s – to appear simply average.
“Anyone who is over that number is really not allowed to go to this [NIT], because they are sort of competing in different ‘leagues,’ so to speak,” Anderson said.
So what’s the importance of all this? Officially, Temple’s regular-season record was a modest 14-12. But take away those opponents with 12 scholarships, and the Owls are 12-4. It’s that type of success, not immediately apparent to the untrained eye, which helped Temple clinch the top spot in the NIT’s East Region.
The gymnasts are as eager as their coach is pragmatic, and as a result the Owls’ overall morale is unfailingly optimistic. For the team’s more experienced gymnasts especially, this year is an opportunity to achieve new heights.
“We’ve come a long way and broken a lot of records,” Ozaroski said. “I think the last time Temple was [in the tournament] was when I was in high school, so when we went last year, it seemed like we came out of nowhere and now we’re competitive again.”
Benjamin Wantanabe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.