COLLEGE PARK – When Alison Iovino learned that the University of Maryland was on the verge of eliminating her acrobatics and tumbling team last fall, she considered her seemingly limited options.
“It was devastating to hear,” she said. “I thought I would either have to stay here and continue my career at a gym, or try and find a school I could transfer to and compete there, but there weren’t many I could go to and get a scholarship right away.”
Instead, Iovino and several other varsity athletes from eliminated programs have found homes on other athletic teams just months after the university eliminated seven sports to stop a $4.7 million budget shortfall from growing larger.
This fall, nearly every athlete from the acrobatics and tumbling team still at Maryland joined the school’s cheerleading squad. And the school’s co-ed club water polo team took on five former members of the men’s swimming team and seven former members of the women’s water polo team.
Cheerleading head coach Jamie Little began talking with members of the acrobatics and tumbling team in November when the athletic department announced the team could be eliminated.
“We knew the amount they had to raise was an unachievable goal for such a young program,” she said.
Those discussions led to an invitation to all former acrobatics and tumbling members to try out for the cheerleading squad, which performs at Maryland’s football and basketball games.
“There was no doubt I was joining the squad when I heard about it, because I knew I wasn’t done with my cheerleading career,” Iovino said.
It also led to the creation of an acrobatics and tumbling-only squad within the cheerleading team that will perform in national competition next spring.
“It was definitely the best alternative they could offer,” former acrobatics and tumbling team member Jamie Burke said. “Once we knew the school would honor our scholarships and tutoring, there was no question that I wanted to stay.”
Club water polo head coach Jill Lau, an alumna of Maryland’s water polo team and a graduate assistant for the varsity team during their final year, kept the door open for any watersport athlete looking to join her co-ed team.
Lau, who was part of the school’s first water polo recruiting class, was shocked when she learned the varsity program was on the chopping block.
“It was ridiculous that the school would cut the program after just seven years,” Lau said. “While we were being recruited we were told that if we came here, we were building a program. It made it rough to see it cut because we could’ve gone to other schools and because (the team) got great in such a short time.”
Junior Colin Stang and four other swimmers joined the co-ed water polo team, despite lacking any experience in the sport.
“We’re still learning and trying to pick it up,” Stang said. “We have a good support system though. The team’s been pretty accepting of us.”
Former varsity water polo players Carly Hoshko and Simone Lewis are key pieces on Maryland’s co-ed team, which competes in what is normally a men’s league. Each scored goals in the team’s tournament in September. They’ve had to adapt to the more physical men’s game.
While the athletes on both teams started to make plans to join other teams in the spring, they still maintained hope they could save their varsity teams.
Senior Rob Maurer, a former swim team captain, said the team was “cautiously optimistic” that a major fundraising effort could raise the $2.8 million needed to keep the team alive.
“It all came apart about two weeks after the ACC championship meet,” he said. “The cut became a formality at that point.”
Hoshko said the varsity water polo team began to fundraise to reach their $1.05 million goal to save the team shortly after the announcement was made, but ultimately fell short.
“We had a lot of small donations, but we knew we needed a big donor that we didn’t have,” she said.
Lewis said the news that their sport was up for elimination brought the team closer together; the team eventually made it to the Collegiate Water Polo Association’s Eastern Championship, where they narrowly lost to Princeton University.
“Last year was the best season we ever had,” she said. “Most teams would probably have a different reaction to it, but we rallied around it.”
Sophomore Courtney Goodlow said the acrobatics and tumbling team quickly realized the chances of saving the team were likely small after their $5.28 million benchmark was set.
“We put together a list of things we could do to fundraise, but once we saw the number we knew it wasn’t as realistic as we thought,” she said.
So far, the transition for all of the athletes has been seamless–something Little called a “blessing.”
“My biggest concern was with team drama,” she said. “I was nervous about how they would mesh, but they have got along so well. I’ve been thrilled.”
The adjustment has mostly been smooth for the athletes still on campus and it has brought an unexpected, but welcomed, perk.
“We have a lot of free time, which is weird since we always had practice,” Stang said. “It’s different. We’re regular students now.”