By Kevin Saxe
March 12, 2020 is a day that no college athletes or sports fans will soon forget.
It was the day that the NCAA officially cancelled the remaining winter championships and spring sports seasons ending 2020 athletics. For winter sport athletes still competing, it meant an abrupt end to their season while still competing for NCAA championships. For spring athletes, it meant having their season cut drastically short and a chance to come back for an extra year of eligibility if they choose to use it.
One group was left in the middle. For sports like men’s volleyball as well as both men’s and women’s gymnastics, they were still in regular season competition or gearing up for their conference championship, it was an abrupt ending to their season and for the seniors, an abrupt ending to their career.
One of those teams on the Springfield College campus was the men’s gymnastics program. In the midst of their season with just two more regular season meets to go before USAG’s, ECAC’s and NCAA’s, the remainder of the season was cancelled.
For head coach Matt Davis, having to break the news to his team was not particularly easy.
“This season and year ended way before it should have,” he said. “It was tough for me to know what to say when I had to tell them this.”
The Pride were led by their six-member senior class. This class was one that had contributions from Stephen Lewis, one of the best all-arounders in program history, to Jeremy Vera who turned into a consistent presence with his leadership as well as unbelievable strength on the rings and everyone else in between.
The Pride were led by their seniors this year and for Davis, it didn’t go unnoticed by the team or the coaches.
“They were the wind in the sails of our 2020 season and to be honest, without them, I do not think we would have come close to our team and individual goals,” he said. “Their season may not have been as long as we all thought but we all know their impact will be felt for years to come.”
Jeremy Vera: Someone who developed into a rings specialist for the Pride, Vera left a lasting impact beyond just the gymnastics mat. He was a two-year captain for the Pride and a trusted leader on the team. His career-high on the rings was 12.850 at last year’s ECAC Championships held in Blake Arena. Davis credits his work ethic for becoming a key part of the rings lineup.
“Jeremy came into the Springfield program with the least amount of gymnastics basics and consistent coaching through his younger years in the sport,” he said. “It was his consistent hard work every day that he became one of our strongest gymnasts and made it possible for him to be a staple within our still ring lineup each year.
“That speaks volumes to his character and dedication to his gymnastics and that of the team. He became a two-time captain and led our program to new heights.”
Nick Cramer: From Omaha, Neb. Cramer came in as an all-arounder but developed into a solid score on both rings and pommel horse. Cramer worked hard at adding new skills and became a consistent score in the rings and pommel horse lineup. Davis credits Cramer’s drive in the gym as to what made him successful.
“Nick had the drive to work hard on achieving new skills each year,” Davis said. “He became a very consistent gymnast on the pommel horse and still rings. He would always go beyond the written practice to do more to achieve his best in competitions and practice.
“He was very passionate in reaching his goals but also helping others on those events to reach theirs as well.”
Luke Wilcox: Despite battling injuries throughout his collegiate career, Wilcox was one of the hardest workers in the gym for this team. Even after suffering a scary fall in last year’s ECAC’s Wilcox was working hard to compete one last parallel bars routine for senior day which would’ve been held on March 21. One thing that stuck out to Davis was the way Wilcox was always willing to help his teammates.
“Luke never stopped working in the gym. It was this quality that helped to inspire the younger gymnasts to follow his footsteps,” Davis said. “He was always giving coaching tips on skills other gymnasts were working on or reminders during team huddles for that day’s practice or competitions.
“A true leader for the younger gymnasts and someone that had a major impact on where this program has been able to reach to.”
Matt Degrandpre: A local product from Westfield, Mass. Although Degrandpre wasn’t a top contributor in every competition, he was as dependable as they come. Even when he wasn’t in the competition lineup, he was someone who worked extremely hard in the gym as he pushed his way into the pommel horse lineup.
For Davis, it’s the dependability that stood out to him when talking about Degrandpre.
“Matt consistently worked nonstop to push his way into the pommel horse lineup,” he said. “He became one of the gymnasts that you could count on in a competition and as a leader. Dependability is the definition of who Matt is. He kept pushing day in and day out to achieve his goals and the team goals.”
Giancarlo “GC” Lawrence: Despite suffering what would be a potentially career-ending injury at the start of his sophomore season when he tore his Achilles, Lawrence would battle back and continue to not just try to improve himself, but improve the others around him. He returned and became someone who really embraced what it meant to represent Springfield College.
The way he fought back stuck out to Davis.
“GC was someone that worked back from an often career ending injury to be better than when he was injured,” Davis said. “He worked to improve all aspects of his floor tumbling and was someone that helped to lead the other floor and vault specialists each practice.”
Stephen Lewis: Lewis, who might go down as one of the best gymnasts in recent program history, wrapped up his illustrious career by being named a USAG Collegiate All-American in the all-around, floor, rings, vault and high bar.
Just a year ago, Lewis became the first gymnast in program history to win multiple ECAC all-around titles after becoming the first since 1932 to win one when he took the title in 2018. Lewis, who also competed as a member of the Jamaican National Team, brought not only an elite level of skill, but also a fun attitude to the gym.
“I believe Steve will go down as one of the top gymnasts to ever come through Springfield College. His achievements speak for themselves,” Davis said. “A world level gymnast, Steve would keep his fun attitude throughout practice and help inspire the younger gymnasts to keep pushing for their level of gymnastics higher. Steve was that consistent score throughout our lineup.”
Although the season came to an abrupt end for the Pride, and for the seniors, an abrupt finish to their careers, this is a class where each guy left their own mark on the program.
“This senior class was the definition of true leadership. In a year when things did not workout with consistent assistant coaching present in the gym, these seniors stepped right in and helped to keep moving this program forward with a larger team roster than ever,” Davis said. ”Each one of them was able to leave their own personal imprint within this program that will be seen for years to come.
“They are the definition of a D-III and Springfield College student-athlete. They worked hard in gymnastics, in the classroom, and were leaders in team humanics efforts. They are truly a senior class that fulfills the tradition of excellence of Springfield College and our gymnastics program.”
Photo courtesy Gabby Guerard