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Gymnastics finishes historic season with national championship

by Carson Werner - Sports Editor
Wed, Apr 3rd 2019 02:00 pm
Senior Stephanie Mager is cheered on by her teammates while performing her floor routine.
Senior Stephanie Mager is cheered on by her teammates while performing her floor routine.
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Since the start of the season back in January, The College at Brockport gymnastics team has been ranked in the top three DIII gymnastic teams, and finished 12—3 with a perfect home record of 5—0. 

Two of the team’s losses came from Division II’s fifth ranked Southern Connecticut State University and Cornell University’s always dangerous Big Red. The third loss came from Ithaca College, a divisional opponent that Brockport had defeated three separate times during the regular season. Little did the team know, those three losses would be its only blemishes in an impeccable season. 

In a sport that requires a combination of individual efforts, team camaraderie can sometimes be the breaking point of a successful season. Athletes that compete in specific events can’t rely on their teammates to step in and help them out. However, for the Brockport gymnastics team, not one Golden Eagle stepped into an event alone.

“This team was definitely special compared to years past,” senior gymnast Olivia DeLuca said. “Each individual brought something special to our team and every person had a part in our success. By the end of the year, I think I can speak for everyone when I say that the support, cheering and positivity during the meets is what gave us that extra push to win regionals and nationals.”

On Saturday, March 23 in Oshkosh, WI, the Golden Eagles won the NCGA National Championship for the first time in seven years. Brockport’s victory marked the first time in history a team in the East Region has won a NCGA DIII Championship in the West Region. 

Brockport’s final score was 191.050, .775 better than the second place University of Wisconsin-Stout. Last year’s champions, University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, finished in third and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh finished fourth. The two hometown opponents, Ithaca and Cortland, finished fifth and sixth respectively.

The green and gold found itself taking over the floor and vault results once again, finishing with the highest scores in both events. Freshman Nicole Jackson and senior Stephanie Mager both finished first for Brockport with 9.725 each, while senior Candis Kowalik earned 9.700 on the vault. 

On the floor, Kowalik and freshman Alexis Castellaneta earned the highest scores for Brockport with 9.775. Kowalik finished as the All-Around Champion for the second postseason meet in a row with a score of 38.400.

“They never gave up,” head coach John Feeney said. “When things go wrong in life, the easiest thing to do is quit. This team never did. We started on beam, nobody fell but we had a few wobbles. In a big meet like this they could have given up right away but they didn’t and then we won floor and vault. Our bar warm-ups were not the greatest so I told them warm-ups are not any indication on how you compete, it is what you do Monday through Friday that determines that and they went out and crushed it.”

Although it may seem like Brockport was destined to win from the start, the team’s success was a result of dedication, chemistry and hard work. During the regular season, a team uses those games or meets to fix its flaws before playoffs. The losses to difficult opposition that the green and gold faced earlier in the year allowed the squad to perfect itself, just in time for the postseason. 

“Feeney and our assistant coach Caitlin Elsadek always told us to always aim for a better routine than last time,” Mager said. “We worked on our mistakes from the prior meet and we applied them for the next meet. Each routine got better every weekend and we became more consistent. We peaked at Nationals after realizing some minor flaws throughout the season.” 

The 2019 Brockport gymnastics team cemented itself in program history as one of the most talented groups to take on the vault, beam, floor and bars. The records set by the team will surely stand out the most when recalling its historic season. However, the records won’t show what truly made the team special. 

For most, the camaraderie started years ago, but for a few it had just begun. Whether it be the love of the sport, spending countless hours together or consistently winning, it was visible that the gymnastics group was more than just a team. The coaching staff and gymnasts developed a team where its strength was not just shown in its individual performances, but through the passion they showed in carrying themselves and their teammates to victory.

“The win was the icing on the cake to a great senior season, but we had many parents and gymnasts from other teams come up to us and tell us how much heart we showed during the competition and that is what it was all about,” DeLuca said. “We all love gymnastics and being able to show that off on the national stage representing Brockport is a true privilege.”