By Kevin Saxe
That was the year Springfield College had its first competitive men’s gymnastics program. 115 years later, the program guided by third-year head coach Matt Davis is still going strong and getting prepared for another season of competition.
Davis is only beginning his third season at the helm of the program, but as someone who graduated as a gymnast in 2008, and served as a Graduate Assistant for the legendary Steve Posner for two years, Davis understands what it means to represent a program with such a long and storied tradition.
“It’s something that I kind of tell the guys every day, that they represent more than themselves,” he said. “There’s so many people who put time and effort into it to get the program to where it is today. From past coaches like Frank Walcott, to Steve Posner, to myself and a lot of gymnasts.”
Senior Nick Cramer added, “It’s something that we really appreciate and don’t take for granted at all. I think gymnastics is one of the biggest sports on campus tradition wise. It’s great to have that and I represent that to the fullest.”
Unlike last season where the Pride were tasked with replacing nearly two thirds of their competition routines, there are just a few lost due to graduation or injury. However, similar to last season is Davis’ optimism when it comes to his freshmen class.
“We have a large class coming in, we have nine first years that are providing a lot of depth for us. A couple of them to watch are, Luke Dineen who will be really good on pommel horse and Dominic Ramalho will provide some depth on multiple events,” he said.
Despite not losing a ton of competition routines, the most damaging hole will primarily come from the absence of graduated senior Jannik Haas, who was a four-year contributor in the lineup for the Pride. Davis acknowledged it probably won’t be just one guy trying to fill in those routines.
“A lot of guys are going to fill his roles. It might not be one gymnast, it might be a couple here and there.”
The Pride, who return a strong base of leaders, will be strengthened by a new leadership committee that Davis believes will give more people across the class years to be leaders.
“Something different we’re trying this year, is a team leadership council. It’s kind of a way for more people to get their voices heard throughout the grade levels. Nick Cramer is still there and a big leader as well as Jeremy Vera. Another one is senior Luke Wilcox. We have some of the other grade levels represented as well.”
Athletes to Watch
When thinking about some of the recent individual success on the Springfield College men’s gymnastics program, it is impossible not to mention Stephen Lewis. Lewis, who is the two-time defending ECAC all-around champion, is poised for an even bigger senior season. If he continues to improve the way he has in each of his first three years, it’s not inconceivable for him to potentially make a splash at nationals.
Another athlete to watch comes from the strong underclassmen group that this Pride team features. Last season, Christian Wilkey turned into a solid contributor in four of the six events. After putting in some work over the summer, Davis believes this could be a big year for the sophomore from Lowell.
“I’m thinking (an athlete who made) big gains this summer was Christian Wilkey,” Davis said. “He’s made alot of progress on all of the events and I can actually see him getting to the all-around this year.”
“He’s another potential all-arounder. The kid works super hard, probably one of the hardest workers I’ve ever seen and he’s also super passionate about gymnastics. He’s a very young guy with a lot of talent and a lot of potential,” Cramer said.
Also keep an eye on Jack Vollo. Vollo, the junior out of Rochester, N.Y., whose main event is pommel horse and was an alternate at the NCAA’s last year. Davis believes that Vollo is among the returning group that has improved from last year.
“Jack Vollo on pommel horse has made some really good improvements this summer,” Davis said. “We see some guys who had a good base last year and have made a lot of gains this summer.”
Despite losing someone like Haas, who was a steady force in the lineup for the Pride, they will return multiple top eight performers from ECAC’s, as well as three USAG All-Americans in Lewis and junior Trevor Lamberton in the all-around, along with junior John Murphy in the floor exercise.
The Pride will also return sophomores Noah Candocia and Kyle Lukaesko, as well as Vollo. Lewis leads a group of five gymnasts for the Pride that represented them at NCAAs last year in a group including Candocia who competed in the vault, Lamberton who, like Lewis, was in the all-around and Vollo and Lukaesko who didn’t compete but were selected as alternates.
For a team with a lot of returning talent, Davis believes that a number of their goals are not far out of reach going into the season.
“Some of the goals this year include making top three at ECACs, but a big goal is also to make top 12 in the NCAA,” he said. “Last year I think we made some good strides in doing that, this year we added a lot of depth and talent that I think it is a very attainable goal.”
Cramer added, “I think one of the biggest ones we have is hitting the 390 team score, as well as hitting all the routines going for 32-for-32.”
For the Pride, this is once again a young team, but also one with proven talent. If the returning core group of guys improves the way Davis is optimistic they can, this is a team that could meet the goals set by the team and the coaches.
Don’t be surprised if by the time April rolls around you’re hearing names like Lewis and others representing the Pride on the biggest stage in Ann Arbor Michigan for the NCAA Championships. The Pride open their season Jan. 10 with day one of the West Point Open.
Featured photo courtesy Springfield Athletics