KINGSTON, R.I. – April 21, 2010 – When the members of the University of Rhode Island gymnastics team realized they had captured a share of first place at the National Association of Intercollegiate Gymnastics Clubs championship, they wept tears of joy.
Their overwhelming emotions may have come from knowing they had just beaten 58 other teams or from realizing that they were fortunate just to be competing at the collegiate club nationals hosted by Texas State University April 9 through 11.
It was a moment that Erika Sloan and her 15 teammates probably never imagined because just two years before, the University had eliminated intercollegiate gymnastics.
A member of the University’s Division I gymnastics program as a freshman, the Shrewsbury, Pa. resident was angry and concerned about the abrupt change in her life, but she used the crisis as a catalyst. Sloan joined forces with teammate Krista Dominici to find ways to save the sport they loved at a university to which they had become deeply attached.
Rhody shared the top spot with Texas A&M University. The Pennsylvania State University finished third and James Madison University was fourth. At the conclusion of the meet, the Rams held the top spot, but Texas A&M successfully challenged some scores and was able to tie Rhode Island.
While the Rams toasted their team’s title, they also celebrated the individual all-around national title of teammate Lindsay Diamond, a junior from Marlboro, N.J. Sloan finished ninth in the all-around, and Dominci, a senior captain from Mt. Sinai, N.Y., finished seventh in the individual uneven bars.
“For our seniors, this was the perfect way to end their gymnastics careers at URI,” said Sloan, president of the club team and a junior journalism student with a 3.85 grade point average. “I just hope we can return next year to win nationals, so I can experience the same feeling as a senior.
“Some of the teams at nationals murmured that we were really a varsity team that dropped down to club level, but this year, only three members of that varsity team were part of our club team–Erika, Lindsay and me,” Dominici said. ”We have a very close team with a competitive practice schedule, attendance requirements and fund-raising events.”
“After the varsity team was cut, only Krista and I stayed with it,” Sloan said. “We just weren’t ready to be done with gymnastics. “I didn’t want to transfer. Now we have a new group of teammates all making contributions to this team.”
Diamond rejoined Sloan, Dominici and the new team members after taking last year off.
Dominici, who possesses a 3.69 grade point average in speech-language pathology and will graduate in May, said, “I transferred from the State University of New York—Brockport to URI for my sophomore year. I loved URI and gymnastics, and didn’t want to give up either.
“So the summer after the varsity team was cut, Erika, gave us a list of things to accomplish,” Dominici said. “It was trial and error that first year, but we received a lot of help from URI’s Recreation Services to keep moving forward. This year, Erika, who I would call the founder of our team, really did most of the work.”
Sloan credits her supportive parents for helping her with her efforts to save URI gymnastics.
“My mom attended countless meetings with the administration and during the following summer, when Krista and I were overwhelmed, both my mom and my dad helped organize anything that we needed done,” said Sloan.
During the 2008-2009 school year, Sloan and Dominici established ties with Aim High Academy in East Greenwich, now the team’s home. They began recruiting through Facebook, and through word of mouth with help from their new coach, Kelli Doorley. Of the 16 gymnasts, 11 are from Rhode Island. All team members have strong club and high school gymnastics experience.
While holding fund-raisers and dealing with other matters faced by club teams, the Rams rolled through this year’s regular season undefeated. One of the highlights was capturing the title at the Terrapin Invitational at the University of Maryland.
“We competed against teams outside of New England and against some teams that had made finals at last year’s nationals, so we thought we really might have a chance to do well at this year’s nationals,” Sloan said.
So it was on to Texas for the national competition for 14 of the 16 team members. Sloan said it was a major commitment for team members because they or their families had to cover most of the travel costs.
“We were seeded third behind Penn State and Texas A&M going into the finals,” Sloan said. “Our last event was vault, and we were two-tenths of a point ahead of Penn State. We knew we had to nail our vaults.”
The tension was building, and even though the Rams were almost 2,000 miles from home, they gained support from some unlikely sources.
“The gymnasts from the University of Vermont were absolutely great,” Sloan said. “The Vermont gymnasts said to us, ‘You are representing New England, so we want to support you’.”
After receiving their trophies at the evening banquet honoring the competitors, the URI gymnasts broke into the URI fight song and were cheered on by the men from Texas State as well as the athletes from Vermont, and James Madison.
Already looking ahead to next year, Sloan realizes the last two years have been a tremendous learning experience. “For me, gymnastics became a lot more fun because I wasn’t always stressed out over making (starting) lineups. Our team is there for those who love the sport and who want to have fun. We are competitive too, and we also have to run all of our own administrative functions, unlike when there was a varsity team. When I go on interviews now for internships or jobs, I tell employers about this experience, how we fought to rebuild a team through our hard work, and how it led to URI’s first-ever national gymnastics championship.”
The roster for the Rhode Island Rams gymnastics team, the 2010 national club team co-champions:
GYMNAST, CLASS, HOMETOWN
Kirsten Cacal, Freshman, Exeter, R.I.
Haley Call, Sophomore, Middletown, R.I.
Alexis Ceasrine, Freshman, South Kingstown, R.I.
Jen Chamberlain, Junior, North Kingstown, R.I.
Courtney Constantine, Freshman, Charlton, Mass.
Lindsey Curry, Senior, Fairfax, Va.
Dacia Daly, Freshman, North Kingstown, R.I.
Alyssa Daly, Freshman, North Kingstown, R.I.
Lindsay Diamond, Junior, Marlboro, N.J.
Krista Dominici, Senior, Mt. Sinai, N.Y.
Chelsea Gratt, Sophomore, Exeter, R.I.
Sarah Lafen, Sophomore, Coventry, R.I.
Micaela Massa, Junior, Portsmouth, R.I.
Kim McCabe, Freshman, North Kingstown, R.I.
Maddy Merrill, Junior, Portsmouth, R.I.
Erika Sloan, Junior, Shrewsbury, Pa.
Head – Kelli Doorley
Assistant – Shannon Farrell
NATIONAL CHAMPS: Members of the University of Rhode Island gymnastics team pose with their trophies after winning a share of the national college club team championship. Front row from left are Courtney Constantine of Charlton, Mass, captain Krista Dominici of Mt. Sinai, N.Y., Lindsay Diamond, national all around champion, of Marlboro, N.J, head coach Kelli Doorley, Kirsten Cacal of Exeter, R.I., Chelsea Gratt of Exeter, R.I. and Micaela Massa of Portsmouth, R.I. Back row, Dacia Daly of North Kingstown, R.I., Haley Call of Middletown, R.I., Erika Sloan of Shrewsbury, Pa., Kim McCabe of North Kingstown, R.I., Sarah Lafen of Coventry,R.I., captain Lindsey Curry of Fairfax, Va., Jen Chamberlain of North Kingstown, R.I. and Alyssa Daly of North Kingstown, R.I. Photo courtesy of Erika Sloan