By Hayden Choate
The men’s gymnastics NCAA national collegiate championships took place at the University of Oklahoma last weekend.
An arena that houses 10,000 people, the Lloyd Noble Center was where the competition took place. Announcing the teams, the public address announcer introduced each school. Stanford, Penn State, Cal-Berkeley, Illinois, Nebraska….
And Springfield College.
The Pride made history when they became the first Division III program to qualify for the national championships.
For head coach Matt Davis, reaching the national stage and seeing his team march out to the floor of the arena was a big accomplishment.
“That moment of them marching out and hearing Springfield College alongside Stanford, Illinois, Oklahoma. That was just one of those moments that was like this is what we worked so hard for,” Davis said. “It made those long days and long nights really worth it — to see the smiles on all the gymnasts’ faces and the coaching staff.”
In the past, Springfield has had individuals on the team qualify for the event. Reaching the national championship as a team has been a goal for the Pride ever since they made the move to Division III in 1995. This season, with a young team, that goal was accomplished resulting in history made.
“When I was on the team, that was always kind of the goal to make it,” Davis said. “We’ve put the work in this year and were able to do it and it’s one of those experiences as a coach I’ll never forget and all the athletes on the team putting in the work to get there. It’s something they’ll never forget too.”
During the first weekend of April, the team traveled to Williamsburg, VA for the ECAC championships. With a historic performance, the team qualified for the big stage — traveling to Oklahoma to compete with Division I programs.
“We always know we have the talent, it’s kind of us believing, and towards the end, we put it all together and that’s when it mattered,” Davis said.
The Pride competed as a team on the first day in Oklahoma, but on the second day, junior Dominic Ramalho competed in the finals. He became just the second gymnast in program history to advance to the second day of competition in the all-around after a score of 76.298 on day one. He is just the fifth Division III athlete in the last eight years to advance.
Davis told his athletes before the competition that just because they are not in Division I, it does not mean they don’t belong here.
“We are Division III. We always tell the athletes you’re putting in as much work as everyone else in Division I and Division III. You belong regardless,” Davis said. “I told them before the competition, you qualified, you’re here, you belong. Now it’s time to let the work you’ve done all year shine and we did. We hit 29 out of 30 routines so we’re trying to push consistency and we did our last two competitions.”
The accomplishment is all the more impressive given their youth. The Pride’s roster is highlighted by 16 underclassmen out of the 24 total gymnasts. Making history after an extremely modified year last season makes Davis even more proud.
“Last year we tried to get as much as we could. We did some virtual competitions and we’re grateful to travel to our conference last year,” Davis said. “It’s a young team that I think figured it out towards the end so I think myself and my coaching staff here we’re excited for the future, we’re graduating three seniors and again they were there helping us lead this young team this year.”
The team had a few individuals qualify for the national championships last year but because of the COVID-19 restrictions, they were unable to attend. Davis reminded them that there is always next year and to keep up the hard work. A year later, having everyone on the team qualify made the wait worth it.
“It was an awesome experience for them to get there this year,” Davis said. “To bring the whole team is something we’ll never forget.
As the season has come to an end Davis and his team are grateful for the experience. Traveling to one of the best teams in the country and being on the national stage with some of the best gymnasts in the country is something that will never be forgotten by the program.
“It was awesome to go out there to Oklahoma,” Davis said. “One of the top two teams in the country and to go there, compete in their arena, see the talent at this competition too. There were multiple Olympians there. Just to be on the same floor as them gave the guys something to really be like ‘okay I really want this in the future’ and to work hard and to keep pushing the program higher and that’s what we’re looking to do.”