Five gymnasts honored on Senior Day, claim third place
Sam Tapper – Sports Writer
Despite a year filled with emotion and uncertainty, Saturday afternoon at Moore Field House served as a celebration for the Owls’ gymnastics team, as they honored their five seniors in their last home meet on senior day.
The Owls hosted a quintuple meet, as they welcomed in West Chester University, Brown University, the University of Bridgeport and Rhode Island College for their final home meet.
To finish the day, the Owls finished in a tie with Brown for third place in the meet with a score of 192.400, while Bridgeport won the day with a score of 194.800 followed by West Chester in second with 193.125. Rhode Island, the only team competing not in the ECAC, finished in fifth with a score of 181.525.
“I think we did great as a team,” said Keylea Brothers, a senior. “We had some bumps in the road, but we got over them fast and we moved on and we picked it back up and hit well.”
For the Owls, two program records were set on the afternoon, both by Hannah Stahlbrodt, a sophomore. Stahlbrodt first scored a 9.875 on the uneven bars and followed it up with a score of 39.075 in all-around competition, shattering the program’s previous marks.
The Owls began the day on a break. With there being five teams present for four events, they sat out the first round of events. From there, the Owls began on the vault, where Stahlbrodt’s score of 9.650 placed seventh out of the 30 participants. Following the vault, the Owls moved on to the uneven parallel bars, then to the balance beam before finishing the day on the floor, where Stahlbrodt led the Owls with a score of 9.825, followed by Jordan Peloquin, a junior, with a 9.775 and Alexandra Lesperance, a senior, scoring a 9.725.
“I think I did a really good job,” Lesperance said. “Floor was amazing, the vault I could’ve cleaned up a little, and the bars I hit it, so I’m glad about that.”
For the senior day festivities, emotions were running high. As the Owls came out during their premeet introductions, the ceremony began.
“Athletes we think have a chance to compete in the National Championships did not compete in NE10, so they are in full preparation mode ahead of the meet,” said Wallin.
For Kiah Strickland, the final chapter is being written on her time with Southern, a part of her life she has fond memories of.
“I could not have picked a more perfect school to go to,” said Strickland. “Southern has become home and I have gone farther in both academics and athletics during my time here.”
Kiah Strickland is also no stranger to success, as she was a NE10 Champion in the javelin and an AllRegion selection in the javelin and the pentathlon. This season in the NE10, she placed fourth in the shot put with a throw of personal-best throw 13.10 meters.
While the women’s side of track and field did not finish as champions like the men, they finsihed in fifth.
In the 4×400-meter relay, the team of Natalee Seipio, Cori Richardson, Toni Joseph and Arreiyona Jones, all of which are freshman, took home the silver with a time of 3:56:03, the fastest time from a Southern team since 2017-2018 season.
Regarding athletes like Exantus, it is not quite over, the NCAA Championship is another chance to reach the paramount of the mountain, something he amounted to in his junior season as well.
“I intend to become an All-American at the NCAA’s,” said Exantus. “It’s been a dream of mine since freshman year and I am confident this year I can achieve it.”
In terms of personal goals, besides becoming an All-American, Exantus said that he has not yet achieved his own goals and that they will come to light during the NCAA’s, whatever they may be.
With the season coming to a close at the end of the spring semester, and with Southern’s team looking very different, Wallin said that next year will have its own set of challenges.
“Every year is different, athletes come, and they go,” said Wallin. “We will see what next year holds in the fall of 2020.”
In addition to Lesperance and Brothers, Jackie Kutcher, Jenna Zakala and Bella Antonangeli were honored.
As each senior was announced, a bouquet of flowers was presented by each of their families, serving as a gift of celebration of the four-year career they draw closer each day to completing. In addition to the flowers, individual video tributes played on the new Moore Field House jumbotron, showing pictures of the seniors with their teammates, old videos of them competing and special messages from their underclassmen teammates.
“Honestly, I feel like I just keep thinking about the fact that it’s the last time we’re going to be performing in front of our own crowd,” said Kutcher. “I think more than anything, I just wanted to go out there and hit for my team, I wanted the energy to stay high, and I just wanted a positive day.”
After the video tributes and flowers from family, each athlete took a photo with their family, the coaching staff and athletic director Jay Moran. After all five seniors were announced and honored, all five and their families came back together one final time to take one large photo, demonstrating the camaraderie this year’s class has with one another.
“It was awesome [to be honored with them],” said Zakala. “I joined their group — I’m graduating early — so, they really welcomed me with open arms, and I wouldn’t trade them for anything.”
Though senior day is now in the past, the season for the Owls is not over. From here on out, the Owls will take their talents on the road for a quadruple meet at Rutgers with Caldwell and West Chester on March 6, followed by a meet at Towson University on March 15 before the ECAC meets, regionals and then nationals.
“[It was] super emotional,” Antonangeli said. “I just feel like the way the seniors performed was amazing and I’m glad we ended the way we did, and we still have more to come.”
Photo Credit: Izzy Manzo