Owls poised to reclaim ECAC cup

Posted: March 30, 2007

The Temple men's gymnastics team last hosted the Eastern College Athletic Conference championship in 2003. It emerged with the 14th of the 14 ECAC titles Temple has won under Fred Turoff, who has coached the Owls for 31 years.

This year's squad hopes for the same results this weekend at McGonigle Hall, where they will face off with the teams in their conference starting at 3 p.m. tomorrow, with individual events continuing at 2 p.m. Sunday.

Temple went undefeated during the regular season against the other seven teams in the conference. (In order from second to eighth place, they are Army, Illinois-Chicago, William & Mary, Navy, Springfield, MIT and James Madison.) A team win in this event would mean an automatic bid into the NCAA qualifier tournament at Penn State and a shot at a national championship for the No. 11 Owls.

"We've beaten them all this year," Turoff said, referring to the other teams in the conference. "But a few unexpected mistakes and they could be right after us.

"We just want to have a good meet. And if we do, I don't think anyone can catch us."

Turoff is not the only man left from the 2003 championship team. Dan Berlin was also on the club. But things are different now for the fifth-year senior.

"I redshirted in 2003, but was still on the team," said Berlin, a pommel-horse specialist. "So far, this team has been the best overall."

Recordwise, Berlin is right. The 2003 squad went 9-6, while this 2007 team is 15-3.

But even after such a great regular season, the mentality of some players change going into such a big event.

"One might view it as just another regular-season meet, to calm the nerves for optimal performance," Berlin said. "Or one might take this meet very seriously, to get pumped up enough to do well.

"Both methods work, depending on the gymnast."

Berlin was a finalist in the pommel horse at last year's conference tournament, won by William & Mary, with Navy second and Temple third. His approach for this year leans toward the first option.

"I'm going to try to view it as just me and the pommel horse at practice and forget about the audience or the ECAC cup," he said. "If the routine is performed with relaxed nerves and goes smoothly, then hopefully it's a contributing factor to getting the cup back."

While Turoff has high expectations for his four seniors, it is his younger crew that has been dazzling viewers.

Junior Sterling Kramer is not only ranked the best in the conference, but is seventh in the nation. Sophomore John Vogtman is ranked No. 2 in the conference and No. 8 in the country, while junior Luke Vexler is Nos. 3 and 11, respectively.

Temple is coming off a season-best 206.150 score during a tri-meet sweep over Army and Navy. And it was those three who dominated, led by Kramer's 51.200.

"The goal is to try to beat the last meet's score," Turoff said. "If we do that, no one can touch us.

"It would be wonderful to win the championship again, and it would be great for these guys."

Participating in his final ECAC experience, Berlin has only one thing on his mind.

"This victory would probably be one of the best days of my life," he said. "I trained so hard since 2003 to try and get that cup back, and it means the world to me."

What benefit does homecourt give the Owls?

"The same equipment is in every gym," Turoff said. "The advantage would be having more people coming to see you. People will see things that will wow them."

Tickets for the ECAC championships are $5 and will be sold at the door of McGonigle Hall, 1800 N. Broad St. *

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