Temple gymnastics dominates at ECAC Championships

The Owls won the Eastern College Athletic Conference Championship for the first time in program history.

Freshman all-around Ariana Castrence leaps during the Owls’ 2019 home-opening win against Penn, Ithaca College and Ursinus College at McGonigle Hall on Jan. 27. | JAMIE COTTRELL / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Saturday was a historic afternoon for the Owls, who won their first ECAC title in team history, as they set a program record on the beam and took home five individual conference awards.

With a score of 194.750, Temple defeated Yale University, Penn, Cornell University, Brown University and the College of William & Mary at the ECAC championships in Ithaca, New York.

After being predicted to win the title in each of the past three seasons, Temple finally took it home after finishing fifth in 2017 and last in 2018. 

“The team has had that cloud of the last three years hanging over their head,” first-year coach Josh Nilson said. “Getting this done, I think it means a lot to the administration, the team and the alums.”

“For my staff and I, the team that’s currently here, it’s humbling,” he added. “It’s an honor really to have the opportunity to bring back our first one. The team earned it. They worked hard.”

Saturday was the culmination of a season of improvement. The Owls went 6-1 in their three meets before the conference championships, and they jumped from 18-17 in 2017-18 to 19-14. 

At the end of the event, Nilson was named ECAC Coach of the Year, marking the second consecutive season a Temple coach won the award. Last season, former coach Umme Salim-Beasley won the award before becoming Rutgers University’s coach in May 2018.

Temple set a program record on the beam with a score of 49.225, beating its previous record of 49.050. First-year assistant coach Rachel Inniss, who specialized in the beam all season, was named ECAC Assistant Coach of the Year after the meet. 

Freshman Ariana Castrence and sophomore Delaney Garin both scored 9.85 on the beam. Castrence set a new career-high, while Garin tied hers from March 10. Sophomore Monica Servidio sealed the deal, as she took the event title with a 9.900 score. 

The women’s gymnastics team celebrates behind senior all-around India Anderson on Feb. 10 at The Palestra, where they placed fourth at Penn’s Pink Meet. | MATT ALTEA / THE TEMPLE NEWS

Temple did well on the beam throughout the year, but sometimes got “shaky” during competitions, Nilson said. He told his gymnasts they could overcome mistakes and still win on Saturday.

“It’s just a reflection of their mentality, knowing they were still in it,” he said. “It was huge. Being able to do that, with all the pressure that applies to that, it was absolutely phenomenal.”

Servidio’s beam score tied her personal best and clinched her the ECAC beam title. In her second season, Servidio led the Owls by regularly competing in all four events to score in the all-around competition. 

Servidio was named ECAC Co-Gymnast of the year with Yale junior Jade Buford. She is the first gymnast in Temple history to take home that award.

“Monica is the least selfish athlete I’ve ever coached,” Nilson said. “She was really surprised. I don’t even know if she realized that she was No. 1 in the conference. She just keeps her head down and works hard. I’m humbled to be able to work with her.”

Castrence competed in the all-around for Temple with Servidio and clinched the ECAC title in the event with a career-best score of 39.175. Castrence was named the ECAC Rookie of the Year for her stellar freshman season.

Temple clinched the team ECAC title with a standout performance in the floor routine. Castrence tied senior captain India Anderson for a team-leading 9.825 score in the event. After the meet, Anderson was awarded ECAC Specialist of the Year in her final season at Temple.

Anderson, Castrence and Servidio will represent Temple at the NCAA Regionals on April 5 in Athens, Georgia. Anderson is the Owls’ first individual qualifier in the floor routine, while Servidio is the first Owl to qualify for the beam event. 

An NCAA rule prevented gymnasts from being made available to the media until after the regional qualifiers were announced Monday evening.

The top event specialist from each regional who isn’t competing in the all-around or team competition will advance to the Division I championships in Texas on April 19 and 20. A strong performance from any of the three could give the Owls their first individual qualifier at the NCAA Championships.

Nilson sees this season as the start of something special.

“We can go out on a national scale and do much bigger things than we did this year,” Nilson said. “Everything is a process. But building on this, I think the foundation is more solid now, I think they understand what they’re capable of a little more and I think this going to be easy to build upon next year.”

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