For some sports, judging a team’s season can be easy. Whether it’s by a win-loss record, or if the team is hoisting a trophy over its head come season’s end, there’s less of a gray area to evaluate a team’s performance.
Other sports may not be that easy. A sport like gymnastics – which relies on a combination of team and individual success more than most sports – is a perfect example.
For Springfield College men’s gymnastics, sending six athletes to the NCAA Division 1 Championships at The Ohio State University this past week is a sure sign of a successful season.
“It really did come together,” men’s gymnastics coach Steve Posner said in regards to his team’s season. “And a lot of the credit goes to the captains. The underclassmen really just kind of went along.”
Posner’s words were reflected by the six gymnasts who traveled to Ohio State this past weekend, as two seniors (Jon Zirna and Tucker McClure) and four underclassmen (sophomores Joshua Dieker, Chris Graff, Mike Grimaldi and freshman Janik Haas) took the over-700 mile trip to represent the Pride at the highest level of collegiate gymnastics in the country.
For Zirna, his performance over the weekend was a credit to the work and dedication he’d put into the program and his sport for the last four years. Zirna wrapped up his Pride gymnastics career in the individual finals on Saturday – somewhere only two other Springfield men’s gymnasts have been in the past 32 years – and scored a 13.550 in the parallel bars.
“I couldn’t have asked for a better way to end my season,” Zirna said. “I had a consistent day in the all-around on day one, and hit the best parallel bar routine I could have. It was exciting and allowed me to qualify for the finals. On day two, I had a very good routine, but didn’t stick my dismount. It didn’t matter. I achieved my goal of making it to finals.”
This past weekend’s was Zirna’s fourth consecutive year competing at the NCAA Championships, but his first trip to the individual finals.
“Making NCAA championships was a goal since the start,” the physician’s assistant major explained. “I came in freshman year with the goal to qualify for NCAA’s, and was able to complete it all four years. This year was different because I completed my other goal, making finals.”
Posner credits Zirna, one of the team’s co-captains along with McClure, as one of the hardest workers around. To see his work pay off was fantastic for Posner.
“It was a dream come true for him,” Posner said. “Everything came together. He was all-ECAC in our league. He was a USAG All-American. He was a finalist for the NCAA. Everything came together. Really the thing I hold on the highest level was he was a real team player.”
Zirna not only focused on himself, but his teammates, too, in hopes that their seasons could be as successful as his. In sending four underclassmen to the NCAA Championships, it looks like Zirna’s work ethic paid off.
“That’s what we want, we want them to get [NCAA experience],” Posner said. “We only have one senior next year. And we’ll have a lot of juniors, so we’re really going to need their leadership. There’s two types of leadership – athletic – their ability to use their talents to make the team better. And then there’s character leadership. So it’s great that they got the gymnastics part.”
Performance-wise, the underclassmen performed well in Ohio. Grimaldi socred a 13.400 on the parallel bars. Dieker scored a 14.100 on the vault, and a 13.400 on the rings. Graff put together a 12.500 on the pommel horse, while Haas scored a 12.850 on the high bar.
“If you ask any coach how their season is at the beginning of the year how their season is, they’ll say ‘I don’t know’,” Posner said. “The reason is because they don’t know where they fit skill-wise.”
While Posner may have responded ‘I don’t know,’ to that question back in the winter, after seeing five of his athletes compete at NCAA’s, his answer would surely be different now.