The Final Season

Around an hour before the 2014 Eastern College Athletic Conference men’s gymnastics championships in Annapolis, Md., were scheduled to start on March 28, Fred Turoff opened a big black suitcase.

A large trophy sat inside, with the words “Intercollegiate League Championship Trophy Gymnastics” inscribed on it.

Temple had kept possession of the ECAC trophy for two years. It’s the same trophy that has been used since 1927, when Dartmouth won the conference title when Temple was part of the Eastern Intercollegiate Gymnastics League.

But this year, a young team full of new competitors couldn’t win a third straight ECAC title. Instead, the hardware went to William & Mary, as the Tribe posted a score of 424.05 to win the conference championship.

Enlarge

The men’s gymnastics team is slated to be eliminated in July, but there are plans in place to revive the program in the form of a club.
The men’s gymnastics team's Division I status will be reduced in July, but there are plans in place to maintain the program in the form of a club.

The competition marked the Owls’ final time performing in a conference championship as a Division I program, as the reduction of their varsity status will go into effect on July 1.

All five of the teams that will have their program cut in July competed during the spring.

Students and coaches on most of the affected teams said the sports cuts always weighed on their minds, whether it affected competition or not. Particularly for the baseball team, members said the prospect of students transferring created more difficulty than any mental barriers they overcame.

Still, as competition winds down for the five teams, it’s clear that most of them are completing seasons that were – at best – filled with mixed results and – at worst – the least successful in program history.

The men’s gymnastics team finished the ECAC championships in fifth place out of six teams with a score of 406.85.

The team struggled all season, finishing last or second-to-last in every event it competed in. The team’s highest score of the year was a 408.80 in a loss to Army on Feb. 28.

Sophomore Evan Eigner, who is coach Fred Turoff’s son, was the only Owl to win an individual medal at the ECAC championships, tying for third in rings with a score of 14.75. Eigner’s season high in the rings was a 15.05 at the Navy Open in January.

“I think the biggest thing was when we got to our conference championship,” Turoff said. “Any time you have less than four or five falls, you have a good week, and to have only one fall at the conference championship, that’s a tremendous accomplishment.”

“I said at the beginning of the [ECAC championships] that we’re from Philadelphia, and we’re fighters,” senior Brendan Williams said. “We’re going to fight our hearts out today. And we did just that … we did the best we possibly could have done.”

Enlarge

With six players transferring before the baseball team’s inaugural year in the American Athletic Conference, the program is on pace to finish the season with the least amount of wins since 2006.
With six players transferring before the baseball team’s inaugural year in the American Athletic Conference, the program is on pace to finish the season with the least amount of wins since 2006.

Early in the season, the younger players on the baseball team were pressing.

“Right now I’ve got 26 guys that, each one of their minds is in a different place,” coach Ryan Wheeler said in March. “I’m trying to keep them together as best as I can.”

Keeping them together has been a challenge for Wheeler. The Owls have gone on losing streaks of nine, seven and four games. They haven’t won more than two games in a row.

The baseball team is on pace for a 14-31 regular season record. Unless the team goes on a run in the postseason, the Owls are likely to finish with the lowest amount of wins during Wheeler’s tenure.

“No matter how much I tell them that they need to put that stuff out of their mind and just focus on the game in hand that day, when they don’t have success on the field, they feel like they’re going to lose opportunities to go play somewhere else,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler said he has been trying to get the message across to his younger players that they need to find a way to focus on getting better and putting all the distractions off the field for the time being.

Easier said than done – but sophomore Frank D’Agostino said they’re trying.

“You just try not to think about it, honestly that’s the only thing you can probably do,” D’Agostino said. “It’s hard when you see other coaches around the field. You just really got to try not to think about it and just focus on what you got to do at the bat and in the field.”

Wheeler said he has been trying to get the message across to his younger players that they need to find a way to focus on getting better and putting all the distractions off the field for the time being.


The softball team’s game against Central Arkansas on March 1 was over, but the players weren’t going anywhere.

The two teams headed to the outfield, where the student-athletes and coaches formed a circle – alternating Owl and Bear – and joined hands while the Central Arkansas coach prayed for Temple.

“It was a very, very thoughtful moment,” sophomore second baseman Leah Lucas said. “It was really cool to have a coach and a team feel for us and give us their condolences. It was really good to see a team genuinely care about what has been happening to us.”

“That was probably the most genuine gesture I’ve ever seen in my life,” freshman center fielder Toni Santos said. “Every single person on my team was crying.”

Enlarge

After an 11-3 loss, the Owls and members of Central Arkansas stand in a circle of prayer in recognition of the program’s elimination.
After an 11-3 loss, the Owls and members of Central Arkansas stand in a circle of prayer in recognition of the softball team's impending elimination.

That moment, however, came at the end of an 11–3 loss. It was one of nine games the Owls lost by eight runs or more in 2014.

Temple finished the regular season 15-30 with a .333 winning percentage, the worst in team history. For the first time since coach Joe DiPietro came to Temple, the softball team will not improve on its win total from the previous year.

The team has been plagued by injuries. Senior catcher/first baseman Stephanie Pasquale, an All-American who led the nation in RBIs per game in 2013, injured her left hand on March 4 against Niagara and has redshirted the season. Junior outfielder Lacey McKeon suffered a concussion against Niagara. Three days later, freshman infielder Jessica Haug also sustained a concussion.

“I think [the injuries] affected [us] in a huge way,” DiPietro said. “Some players that I had hoped to kind of get some on-the-job training, but at a slower pace, they’re now in a starting role.”

Early in the season, DiPietro said his team was distracted by the cuts. But as the season wore on, he changed his stance.

“I don’t want to sit here and say every time we lose it’s because they’re affected by the cuts,” DiPietro said. “They’re affected by the cuts every minute of every day. It’s not the reason we win and it’s not the reason we lose.”

On the eve of his Temple track & field debut, freshman Joseph Ho walked out of the Student Pavilion knowing that his first season with the Owls would also be his last.

The university’s announcement last December that the men’s track & field team was among the seven sports being cut from the athletic department came a day before the team’s season opener at the Jack Pyrah Invitational at Haverford College.

“But the simple fact of the matter was that I was very grateful to still be able to run,” Ho said. “It puts everything into perspective.”

The timing of the announcement forced the group to put aside its emotions and place an emphasis on the challenge at hand. Ho and the Owls went about the meet as if it was business as usual.

“We have great captains,” Ho said. “They made us refocus. They sat us down and talked. They gave us the message that we have to stay focused. We had a race to run, and we needed to run it.”

“We were a team,” Ho added.

In a press release, coach Eric Mobley said he said he was “proud” of the way both teams competed at the invitational. Senior Gabe Pickett said Mobley was “distraught” after learning that the men’s team would be cut.

Enlarge

Senior jumper Gabe Pickett leaps during the Owls Alumni Invitational – the first home meet the team has hosted in more than 30 years. The event marked the final time the men’s track & field team will compete on Main Campus before the cuts take effect in July.
Senior jumper Gabe Pickett leaps during the Owls Alumni Invitational – the first home meet the team has hosted in more than 30 years. The event marked the final time the men’s track & field team will compete on Main Campus before the cuts take effect in July.

“To see him hurt shows that we have to make him proud,” Ho said. “This is his program. What he’s done for me is unreal. I can’t thank him enough. We really have to stay focused for him and show Temple that we are a team. We are a good team.”

After a season of mixed results, Pickett was the last member of the men’s track & field team to compete at the Penn Relays on April 26. He earned two medals, placing fifth in the long jump and fourth in the triple jump.

“We have a great tradition of coming out here and performing and it’s an honor to be a part of the last hurrah for the men’s program,” Pickett said.

“[The cuts are] very heartbreaking,” Mobley said. “I wish it wasn’t the case, but now we have to take it in and make sure we have some good representation at the meet for our final one and just look back at all the great things that we accomplished.”

Ho said in the days following the cuts that he had no idea what his future plans would entail. This season, though, competing for the track & field team, he was an Owl.

“We’re upset,” Ho said. “But we also still have to compete. I’m very grateful for the opportunity to still work at Temple.”

“Anything else we just have to take one day at a time.”