The Springfield College men’s gymnastics team has gotten out to a shaky start in 2014, placing sixth at the West Point Open in West Point, N.Y. and fifth at the Navy Open in Annapolis, Maine.
As the team continues to train harder and harder each week, the success is starting to seep out of the woodwork in Springfield’s very own Kresge Gym, creating a buzz up and down Alden Street.
Having a major hand in helping to create that buzz has been senior captains Ryan Ponce and Pat Hanley, as well as sophomore Jon Zirna.
A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Zirna dominated the competition in the pommel horse, recording a score of 14.000, taking first place by a large margin. Zirna went on to take first in the all-around competition as well, posting a score of 79.700.
As for the co-captains and roommates, Ponce and Hanley strung together a pair of impressive performances this past weekend at Temple University, helping the Pride to a 400.25-397.45 victory over the Owls.
“Once we get a little more experience I think we are going to be a great team,” said Ponce. “I think that we have the capabilities to do things that have not been done in a long time at Springfield College.”
Ponce, a native of Tolland, Conn., placed first on the still rings with a score of 14.450, just outscoring Temple’s Evan Eigner, who posted a score of 14.400. As for Hanley, the Physical Education major from Abington, Mass. recorded a score of 14.300, good enough for third place.
Ponce has been the go-to guy for coach Stephen Posner, and much like last season, has a chance to do something at Springfield College that hasn’t been done in 30 years.
“As a leader, Ryan has been very good,” commented Posner. “He is kind of a quiet person, so when he was elected captain I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out but he has been a really good leader. The guys respect him. He is a hard worker, he is very well-organized, an excellent student. He has really stepped up as a leader this year and been there for the guys whenever they need him.”
In over 100 years of history within the men’s gymnastics program at Springfield College there has only been three Division I All-Americans. In 1965, Bob Elsinger helped aid Springfield College to a fifth-place finish at the NCAA Division I Finals, where he collected a national championship on the pommel horse and a Division I All-America honor.
In 1981, Jeff Coelho, now a professor and director of Instruction and Military Movement, and officer representative of the gymnastics’ team at Army, collected a Division I All-America honor on the rings during his career with Springfield.
Just one year ago, Ponce had a chance to join Elsinger and Coelho in this prestigious category, but a mediocre performance on day one of the National Championships cost him a trip to the NCAA Finals, which would have put him in contention to be a Division I All-American.
“It is really awesome to be associated with them,” said Ponce. “It is something that I never would have expected to be a part of when I came here four years ago. Right now I can only hope for the best and kind of see where things go.”
The struggle for Ponce is that he is on the only Division III men’s gymnastics team in the nation, therefore in order for him to compete at the national level, he will be grouped with a Division I team.
“The hype is with the team so he had bottom billing last year,” said Posner. “On that stage and in the position that Ryan was in, you have to be better than everyone in your position to be recognized. He has a shot, but everything has to fall in the right place.”
Ponce, Posner and the rest of the men’s gymnastics team will be back in action this Sunday when they will host William and Mary at Blake Arena at 1 p.m.