Senior Gymnasts prepare for farewell
Edgar Ayala – Sports Editor
As the season comes to close and Senior Day for gymnastics long gone, time is running out for the six seniors on the gymnastics team.
Nicole Pruchnik, Rachel de la Torre, Jennifer Rochefort, Austin Page, Meagan Puccio and Jasmine Zambrana are heading into their final meet of the regular season, but more importantly, their last meet of their entire gymnastics career.
Rochefort, a senior from Atlanta, Ga. said she’s trying to cherish every moment she has left with the sport and her teammates.
“On [Senior Day], it kind of felt like the beginning of the end,” Rochefort said, “but I know it won’t really hit me until my last meet. It’s just going to be hard to say goodbye to something that has been a part of my life for the past 17 years.”
De la Torre, the senior out of Manhattan, N.Y. echoed Rochefort’s words about closing the curtains on gymnastics. As when nationals begin in April, de la Torre said that was when the feeling of leaving gymnastics will really start to set in.
Senior Day was also an emotional night for de la Torre. The thought of seeing her mother along with the celebration of commemorating all the seniors made it much more “real” for her.
“I have shared moments with people that have been so supportive, who are by your side and act as friends, mentors and family,” de la Torre said. “I love being here and sharing this college experience with my teammates. So it’s definitely going to be weird going back to real life and ending gymnastics.”
Head gymnastics coach, Jerry Nelson, said he is “losing six good team players.” And noted that half of his lineup for next year will have to be replaced by freshman and the incoming class.
“It’s always tough replacing the seniors, and this year is no exception,” Coach Nelson said. “The six athletes that were graduating compete on every event, at least a couple of them, if not three of them. They have just been great teammates to have and great team players.”
Out of the six seniors graduating, there is one name that the gymnastics program will never forget, Massachusetts native, Nicole Pruchnik.
Pruchnik, is a three-time USAG Nationals qualifier, a 2014 ECAC champion on floor and beam and the 2013 ECAC Rookie of the Year for the Owls. And is on her way to become a four-time USAG Nationals qualifier once again.
Coach Nelson couldn’t help but praise Pruchnik from her time at Southern.
“Nicole [Pruchnik] is one of the most talented athletes that I’ve had the chance to coach,” Nelson said. “On the three events she competes on: vaulting, beam and floor, she’s a national caliber athlete on all three. So she’s a tremendous loss.”
With the departure of big-name athletes leaving the Owls, Nelson said recruiting is well underway for the university. According to Nelson, the gymnastics program already has four girls who have committed to Southern for the 2017 season.
But Nelson wants his players focused on this year’s season. As he wants to meet the team’s objective of qualifying as many individuals to the USAG Collegiate Nationals in St. Louis, Mo. on April 7.
Once nationals is over and done with, the seniors will have no more gymnastics left in their career. But de la Torre said before she finishes, she wants to leave the Owls and gymnastics, “having fun.”
“I want to leave Southern with no regrets,” de la Torre said. “I want to be remembered as someone who was a hard worker. Who cherished every moment. Who loved the sport. Was a supportive teammate, and loved everything about gymnastics. I will never forget anything that I’ve done here.”
The lady Owls final regular season meet will be Saturday March 12 in Providence, R.I. against Brown and Temple University, followed by the ECAC Championships beginning March 19, and nationals on April 7.
Photo Credit: SCSU Athletic Communications