By Carley Crain
An all-female presence at the gym doesn’t go unnoticed. Four women stand side by side on the sidelines cheering for their student-athletes with an abundance of excitement. The women’s gymnastics team knows that representation matters and how powerful it can be in the sport.
The success from this past winter season starts at the team’s roots: the all-female coaching staff. Before the start of the year, head coach Jenn Najuch went on maternity leave, as she gave birth to her first child. Najuch asked volunteer assistant coach Emily Bellin to step up and take on the role of head coach for about three months during the preseason.
Najuch knew she could trust Bellin with the program when she was gone. During her time on Alden Street, Bellin performed in the home show every year, as well as volunteered with the team. Handing off her job wasn’t easy, but it led to one of the most successful years for the women’s gymnastics team in program history.
After the 2020 NCGA Regional Championships, which were supposed to be at Springfield College, were canceled, the team was heartbroken. But once the Pride found out that this year Springfield was hosting Regionals once again, they knew they had to take advantage of the opportunity.
They had unfinished business to tie up.
The success at Regionals wouldn’t have been possible however without the crew that was working behind the scenes.
Bellin wasn’t alone in this new undertaking as head coach. Three new graduate assistants joined the staff this year, all from different collegiate programs across the country. Si-Si Ponder, Lou Knapp, and Keara Loughlin brought a new, exciting energy to the gym that helped propel the overall success of the team. Each graduate assistant tended to focus on one event, which helped athletes develop more deeply in their respective events.
“It was incredible to have three graduate assistants who were so eager to learn and bring their experiences in as well since they all came from three separate programs, ” said Bellin. “I think it was a seamless transition which really helped our season.”
Ponder is the first individual to earn the Moffat Fellowship position through athletics, which according to the Springfield College Athletics website, the fellowship was created to “deepen and enrich the field of diverse coaches at Springfield College and, as a result, impact all of sport.” Ponder also was a key part of the team’s success on the floor exercise, which was one of their strongest events all year.
In true reflection of that, this season the team tied the overall floor exercise school record of 48.600, which was set in 2019. At Regionals, Springfield had a very impressive showing on the floor as well. Senior Mackenzie MacLeod won and junior Devon Rosier took second overall right behind her teammate.
Loughlin’s expertise is with the balance beam, as she helped lead MacLeod to a new school beam record of 9.875 this year. Once again, the Pride showed off their skills at Regionals on the beam as they swept the podium; Macleod with first, junior Tori Sipes finishing second overall, and Rosier in third.
Knapp came all the way from Alaska to be a part of the women’s gymnastics team this year, and also brought her former teammate, Winter Osborne, with her. The duo formed a close bond and ended up with a national title at the end of the season. Osborne was crowned the National Champion on the Uneven Bars.
“This was a challenging year for me as an individual adjusting to Mom life… and the four of them took ownership while embracing my coaching philosophy and made the year fun and energized and easy,” explained Najuch.
Despite all the transitions and new faces, the women’s gymnastics team showed up when it mattered the most. Bellin was awarded the NCGA East Assistant Coach of the Year Award– as her efforts leading the preseason didn’t go unnoticed.
Having an all-woman staff has served as a dominant statement for the sport, and especially on Alden Street.
“Women’s gymnastics in my mind is a very powerful sport and I think it shows that we are a very strong staff, ” said Bellin. “I think we are extremely motivated and we all bring our own special talents and ideas to the team. It is really nice to work with a team of all women who communicate so well.”
Photo: Gillian Dube/The Student