The Power of a Girl Gang – How All-Female Gymnastics Team Staff Led to Success

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By Carley Crain
@carley_crain12

An all-female presence in the gym does not go unnoticed. Four women stand side by side on the sidelines cheering on their student-athletes with an abundance of excitement. The women’s gymnastics team knows that representation is important and how powerful it can be in sport.

The success of the past winter season begins at the roots of the team: the all-female coaching staff. Before the start of the year, head coach Jenn Najuch went on maternity leave, as she gave birth to her first child. Najuch asked volunteer assistant coach Emily Bellin to step in and take on the role of head coach for about three months during the preseason.

Najuch knew she could trust Bellin with the program when she was gone. While on Alden Street, Bellin performed annually in the home show and also volunteered with the team. Transferring her job wasn’t easy, but it led to one of the most successful years for the women’s gymnastics team in program history.

After the cancellation of the 2020 NCGA Regional Championships, which were to be held at Springfield College, the team was heartbroken. But once Pride found out that this year Springfield was hosting regionals again, they knew they had to seize the opportunity.

They had unfinished business to attend to.

Success at Regionals, however, would not have been possible without the team working behind the scenes.

Bellin wasn’t alone in this new venture as a head coach. Three new graduate assistants joined the staff this year, all from different college programs across the country. Si-Si Ponder, Lou Knapp and Keara Loughlin has brought an exciting new energy to the gym which has helped propel the team’s overall success. Each graduate assistant tended to focus on one event, which helped athletes develop more deeply in their respective events.

“It was amazing to have three graduate assistants who were so eager to learn and contribute their experiences because they all came from three separate programs,” Bellin said. “I think it was a smooth transition that really helped our season.”

Ponder is the first person to earn the Moffat scholarship position through athletics, which, according to the Springfield College Athletics website, the scholarship was created for. “deepen and enrich the field of diverse coaching at Springfield College and thereby impact the sport as a whole.” Ponder was also a key part of the team’s success in floor exercise, which was one of their strongest events of the entire year.

In true reflection of that, this season the team tied the school’s overall floor exercise record of 48,600, which was set in 2019. At Regionals, Springfield also had a very impressive performance on floor. Senior Mackenzie MacLeod won and junior Devon Rosier finished second overall just behind her teammate.

Loughlin’s expertise is with the balance beam, as she helped MacLeod achieve a new school record on the balance beam of 9.875 this year. Once again Pride showed off her skills at Regionals on the beam as she swept the podium; Macleod with first, junior Tori Sipes finishing second overall and Rosier third.

Knapp came from Alaska to be part of the women’s gymnastics team this year and also brought her former teammate, Winter Osborne, with her. The duo formed a close bond and ended up with a national title at the end of the season. Osborne was crowned national uneven bars champion.

“It’s been a tough year for me as an individual adjusting to life as a mom…and all four took charge while embracing my coaching philosophy and made the year fun, energetic and easy. “, explained Najuch.

Despite all the transitions and new faces, the women’s gymnastics team showed up at the most important time. Bellin received the NCGA East Assistant Coach of the Year award as her efforts to lead the preseason did not go unnoticed.

Having an all-female staff served as a commanding statement for the sport, and in particular on Alden Street.

“In my mind, women’s gymnastics is a very powerful sport and I think that shows that we are a very strong staff,” Bellin said. “I think we are extremely motivated and we bring all our own talents and ideas to the team. It’s really nice to work with a team made up of all the women who communicate so well.

Photo: Gillian Dube/The Student

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