By Kevin Saxe
SPRINGFIELD — Coming off a successful season in which the Springfield College men’s gymnastics team had their first ECAC all-around champion since 1932 in Stephen Lewis, and Chris Graff compete in the individual all-around finals, the Pride have their sights set high despite having a young team.
“We did lose a big class, we lost six seniors from last year,” second-year head coach Matt Davis said. “We are a very young team this year but returning this year we have some great leadership in our captains. Jannik Haas, who’s a senior this year. He was a captain last year, brings good leadership inside and outside of the gym as well as academically.”
Haas will be joined as a captain by juniors Nick Cramer and Jeremy Vera who are expected to step into a bigger role.
“They’re great with leadership in the gym as well,” Davis said. “They worked hard this summer, and you could see they made large improvements.”
With the Pride losing a six-member senior class in Graff, Alex Campagnone, Joshua Dieker, Mike Grimaldi, Phil Ordonez and Dan Terrano, Davis knows this will be an extremely young team. Although, Davis fully expects not only his returners to step up but also, his underclassmen.
“We are a very young team, but we’re excited to be a young team. There’s a lot of talent in the freshmen class. We have five freshmen coming in and I think they’re all going to make an immediate impact on our lineups and fill the holes that the senior class left.”
One of those members of the senior class, is back in a different role this time as part of Davis’ coaching staff as a grad assistant. Graff, who became the first compete in individual all-around finals in program history last year, will enter his first season as a coach while training for a shot at the 2020 Olympics to represent Colombia. Junior Luke Wilcox talked about how having Graff will benefit the team.
“We show up early and he’ll be training before he coaches and it’s like any of us. He’s putting in the work day in and day out while coaching. It’s that work ethic that you look up to. You come in early and your like, ‘Wow… whether it’s in the gym or outside the gym he’s always there to help and it’s a great thing that he’s still around.’”
Athletes to Watch
Although securing the ECAC championship, Lewis missed the all-around final by under four tenths of a point at the NCAA Championships. The junior has steadily improved throughout his two years.
“Something I see when he comes back from the international competitions where the top athletes in the world are, he’s a little more focused in the gym and he knows some of those goals he wants to do,” Davis said. “He’s very goal oriented. Guys definitely feed off his talent and it helps other athletes push them to reach their goals as well.”
Wilcox added, “He’s definitely one of the best guys to have in the gym to train with.”
Davis mentioned Trevor Lamberton as another potential contributor. He had a solid freshmen season for the Pride and Davis expects him to be a big piece of the team’s success.
“A sophomore to watch is Trevor Lamberton who had a breakout year last year and from what I’ve seen his confidence and talent have grown over the summer into the beginning of this year.”
Despite a young team this season, the Pride on paper have the makeup of a team that can bring consistently good results at every meet. Davis is optimistic that this Pride team has the makings of something special.
“I think with the talent coming in we’re going to put a run on a lot of those D-1 teams. I’m excited for this year as well as the rest of the coaching staff and the guys, and I think it’s going to be a great year to host the ECAC Championships.”
With Springfield hosting ECAC Championships, Wilcox says the team is excited for the opportunity.
“Last year the women hosted nationals, and Tali [Twomey] won floor. The amount of energy in the building for that was amazing. Stephen [Lewis] won ECAC’s in the all-around last year, so if he or any of us can perform well in front of the home crowd, it would be electric.”
Added Davis, “For the team goals this year, we’re hosting the ECAC Championships this year in Blake Arena on April 6th, so a lot of them have a big team goal of making the podium at ECAC’s in front of the home crowd. We have a lot of talent here and I think a lot of their goals are possible.”
For Springfield, despite being the only Division-III program competing in men’s gymnastics, they are poised for success this season. With the motivation of hosting ECAC’s, combined with the talent of the veteran leadership and the up and coming freshmen class, they have the potential for a big season.
If Davis’ optimism is a sign of things to come, the smallest school to sponsor men’s gymnastics at the NCAA level could make waves on a national stage whether it’s at USAG’s, ECAC’s or NCAA’s.
Springfield opens their season on January 11 where they travel to West Points to face off against powerhouses such as Army and Penn State.
Photo courtesy of Springfield Athletics