WILLIAMSBURG — Last season, in 2021, the College of William & Mary’s (W&M) men’s gymnastics team earned the program’s first National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championship bid since 2014.
It was a strong outcome for W&M’s men’s team and one where many of W&M’s gymnasts earned individual achievements for their efforts; such as 2021 Freshman Sam Lee being honored as the Eastern College Athletic Conference’s (ECAC) Rookie of the Year and Andrew Lyubovsky becoming the eighth gymnast in the program’s history to earn NCAA All-America distinction after placing sixth on parallel bars with a 13.866.
The season was very different than in previous years. Not only because of how the team finished it, but also because of how the athletes got there. W&M’s gymnastics programs had to carefully navigate the COVID-19 pandemic that interrupted the way W&M competed with other universities.
In 2021, the W&M men’s and women’s gymnastics teams’ competitions were held online, virtually by the use of video streaming from iPhones.
“It was an idea that was floated around a couple of years ago. A remote possibility. Then as the pandemic came on, the conversations got more serious pretty quickly and it turned into more logistics and laying the groundwork to get approval from the NCAA and those kinds of things,” said W&M’s Director of Gymnastics Mike Powell in an interview with WYDaily. “In the early part of that, I was actually the chair of the NCAA committee for Men’s Gymnastics. So I had the privilege of kind of laying some of the groundwork for what would eventually get approval: to count scores in what is a live online competition.”
After the NCAA groundwork was laid, and the approval was given, the technology was then spearheaded by former Stanford Gymnast Ambert Yeung and his work with Apple.
The program that was utilized in 2021 to livestream competitions is called Virtius. It’s a custom-built online platform made specifically for gymnastics competitions.
Since the gymnastics competitions were online, the events could feature judges from all over the world. Powell recalls a meet where a judge was gauging a competition while viewing the livestream remotely from Germany.
During these remote competitions, the team set up two screens at the W&M gym. One screen would show the live video stream and the other would show the scoring grid.
Powell says that during that 2021 season there was a big focus on staying disciplined.
“We kind of knew that with all the uncertainty going on with COVID and changes in the athletic department, and William & Mary, we really had to drill down and be disciplined about what we were doing and focus on what we can control,” Powell said.
For now, the team is moving back to in-person live competitions for the 2022 season. This weekend, the Tribe traveled to the West Point Open Jan. 14-15.
Powell says that looking forward to this season, the athletic goal is for their gymnasts to go back to the NCAA Championship. That’s the team’s athletic goal. However, he says their mission is different, and even more important to the members of the team.
“The mission of William & Mary men’s gymnastics is to really be striving for excellence. Not just in athletics, but in academics and in the community. It’s a whole package,” said Powell. “The athletic experience is just something that enhances the education and personal growth that they’re already getting here at a world-class institution like William & Mary. So we’re looking well beyond the athletic achievements and we’re striving for the whole package.”
More information on the 2022 season for W&M’s men’s and women’s gymnastics teams has been found on the tribe athletics website.