Assistant Sports Editor
Tucked in the back corner of the Physical Education Complex at Springfield College is a home for a certain group of athletes. Upon opening the rustic colored double doors and taking a step onto the blue mat known as the floor exercise area, the taste of the powdered chalk looming in the air instantly falls onto the lips of the 26 male and 20 female athletes that call themselves the men’s and women’s gymnastics teams.
This group of incredibly strong and flexible athletes represents a program highlighted with over 280 combined All-Americans over the past 54 years of competition. Currently, the two teams are in the midst of their seasons, and both are turning up the heat at the right time with postseason championships in their sights.
The men, paced by junior All-American Ryan Ponce, have started to peak as they compete against some of the best competition in the country. Two weeks ago, on Feb. 17, the men placed first in the New England Intercollegiate Invitational. The event, which took place at Springfield College’s very own Blake Arena, saw the Pride on top of the leaderboard at meet’s end, posting 404.00 points. The University of Vermont placed second with 222.60 points, and the University of Southern Maine captured third place with a score of 214.45.
The final score alone showed Springfield’s pure dominance, but an event-by-event breakdown was even more telling. In all six events available at a men’s gymnastics meet, Pride representatives took both first and second place. In the all-around competition, sophomore Ian Stratton took first with 77.6 points, while freshman Jon Zirna took second with a score of 76.9.
The following weekend, the Pride faced tough competition when they headed to State College, Pa. to take on the Nittany Lions of Penn State University. This season, PSU is the top-ranked team in Division I collegiate gymnastics. Although Springfield fell to the Nittany Lions 446.85-403.30, one athlete stood out above the rest.
Ponce, a junior out of Tolland, Conn., cut through the vicious Penn State competition consisting of Olympic-caliber athletes, and placed second in the rings with a score of 15.750.
“Ryan [Ponce] is a good one. He has been doing great,” said men’s gymnastics coach Steve Posner. “We are hoping that he can be a Division I All-American this year. Last season he passed the first step by placing one of the best in the region, and then went to the second step, which is competing at NCAAs. He got nervous and didn’t have a great routine and he got bumped. We are hoping that he can get to the third step this year, which is the NCAA Finals, but everything has to be right. At that level, even if you have the skills, it depends on the day.”
If Ponce is able to claim the title of a Division I All-American, he would be the first member of the Springfield College men’s gymnastics team to do so since Jeff Colhelo achieved the honor during the 1984 season.
Just as Ponce, Posner and the rest of the Pride seem to be peaking at the right moment, the women’s gymnastics team is hitting their stride with the postseason in their crosshairs as well.
“The season has taken a turn and is looking pretty good,” said coach Cheryl Raymond. “We are beginning to take an up-turn at the right time. Hopefully we peak at the right time with ECACs right around the corner.”
Most recently, the women competed in a tri-team meet involving Southern Connecticut State University and Rhode Island College on Feb. 24. Although Springfield received valiant efforts from sophomores Lauren Pocius and Abby Clark, the Pride fell and placed second behind SCSU. The Owls accumulated 188.70 points, barely edging out Raymond’s team, who tallied 184.525 points. Rhode Island College brought up the rear with a score of 171.65.
Pocius placed second in the all-around and first in the uneven bars to pace the Pride, while freshman Kristen Feliu placed first on the vault with a score of 9.55. Seniors Brittany Baglow and Annmarie Graziosa both scored an impressive 9.375 on their respective floor exercises.
This season, Raymond has looked to her captains Baglow and Graziosa for leadership, and they have responded quite well. Baglow, a local product from Amherst, Mass., has come back from a pair of tears to her achilles tendon and now leads the Pride both in and out of the gymnasium.
“Brittany has done an outstanding job this year. We are at the point where we have her routines back up to full difficulty,” said Raymond. “She has been adding to her routines over the season, and has become much more consistent. I think she is hoping to show the girls her perseverance and her sense of hanging in there. She is going from week to week and building. She has been a team leader from that perspective.”
Baglow, Raymond and the rest of the women’s team will travel to West Chester, Pa. this weekend to compete in a five-team event including SCSU, RIC, West Chester University and Wilson College. There is still a chance to check out the men’s team when they take on William and Mary this Sunday at Blake Arena. The event begins at 1 p.m.