By Carley Crain
Collegiate men’s gymnastics continues to decline — as only 15 teams remain in the entire NCAA, but Springfield is doing everything they can to try and save the sport that they love.
The global pandemic caused many colleges to cut athletic programs and gymnastics as a whole was hit hard. With other sports bringing in more money, like football and basketball, smaller programs tend to get defunded more easily.
The Pride stands alone as the only Division III men’s gymnastics program in the country. This means that this season they will go head to head with the nation’s best Division I programs since there are also no Division II teams.
“Technically we are Division III, but we see ourselves as just another men’s gymnastics program. We never let that dictate how we see ourselves,” said head coach Matthew Davis.
Two new teams have been added to Division III, Simpson College and Greenville University, but won’t be competing until next year. Hope is in the air, but uncertainties about the sport as a whole still loom. Because of this, every opportunity to compete wearing The Jersey is a privilege.
“Being the only Division III men’s gymnastics team in the country is something I am incredibly proud of,” explained junior Billy Welsby. “We are right up there with the Division I teams that we compete against throughout the season and continue to turn heads as we are more of an ‘underdog’ team with a lot of talent.”
The Pride, however, are ready to compete again fully in-person for the first time since early 2020 and have a roster filled with talent.
“It’s a good experience for us to get back out there. There is nothing like competing with the other team in the same arena with that energy. It’s an exciting opportunity that we are very grateful for,” said Davis.
So far, Springfield has competed in two meets and is easing into the difficulty scores and routines. Since it remains early in the season, the current focus is to develop and perfect routines for the later stages of the year.
The Pride added some key gymnasts to the lineup this year, some including first-year Germany native Felix Kriedemann, vault specialist Ray Bridges and Jaden Laubstein, who has been a valuable asset in numerous events so far.
“It’s exciting to have many gymnasts from all over the country. Spreading Springfield College across the U.S. and now internationally is very cool for us,” said Davis.
A good portion of student-athletes on Springfield’s roster are also returning upperclassmen that will help guide the team this year both on and off the mat. Captain and All-American Dominic Ramalho has proven himself to be one of the Pride’s most valuable gymnasts. As an all-around specialist, his combination of strength, flexibility and speed is special. His approach and dedication to the sport have been key factors in the overall success of the team.
“Having what I would consider the most depth we have had in years allows for our coaches to craft a 15-man lineup each meet that will put us in the best position for success,” explained Welsby. “Having athletes that cover multiple events also allows for specialists that may only cover one or two events to find a spot in the lineup.”
As only a first-year last season, sophomore Colton O’Brien made a name for himself on the pommel horse. His quick turns and combinations didn’t go unnoticed. All eyes will be on O’Brien within the conference and the division as a whole.
In arguably the Pride’s best event, the vault, Springfield has many athletes that are expected to make an impact. The duo of first-years, Andrae Butler and Ridges, have already put up solid numbers this season, and will likely be regular faces in the lineup.
The Pride will compete this upcoming Sunday, Jan. 30, for their first home meet in Blake Arena at 1 P.M. vs Army, which is anticipated to be close in scoring since Army has always been one of Springfield’s toughest competitors.
Photo: Jack Margaros