Several hours after the 1990 Tiger gymnastics team completed its competition at the NCAA Southeast regional meet at the University of Florida, Coach Dick Filbert received one of the most surprising phone calls of his life.
He had thought that his team had just completed an outstanding season with a fourth place finish at the regionals. The Tigers, who had compiled a 23-1 record in the regular season, earned a 188.775 team score and barely finished fourth behind Kentucky (188.825).
However, as things turned out, the Tigers’ performance was enough to earn Towson one of 12 spots at the NCAA National Championship Meet at Oregon State University.
Around 2:00 a.m., the phone rang in the Tiger coach’s Gainesville hotel room. On the other end of the line was Suzanne Yoculan, the head coach of the University of Georgia. When she told Filbert that Towson had qualified for Nationals, he wasn’t sure that she was correct.
"We were a 100-to-1 shot that came in," he recalls. "At first, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t want to get too excited because I was afraid she might be wrong. But Suzanne was certain that she was right. Fortunately, she was."
After hearing the news, the Tiger coach went around the hotel to tell the gymnasts that they were going to Nationals. He woke all of them up and most of them didn’t believe him.
"They thought I was trying to pull a prank on them," he recalls. "It wasn’t until the next morning that they actually believed their coach."
Seeded 11th in a field of 12 teams at Nationals, the Tigers were a curiosity to the other schools at Nationals. The other teams competing for the title had been there before. Towson joined national powers like Utah, Alabama, Georgia, UCLA, Nebraska, Louisiana State, Oregon State, Cal State Fullerton, Florida, Arizona and Ohio State in the championship field.
"Everyone kept asking us Where’s Towson?’ and most of the time they mispronounced our name," recalled Wendy Weaver, 92, who was a sophomore on the 1990 Tigers. "We got tired of answering those questions."
Competing in the first session with the host team, Cal State Fullerton, Arizona, Florida and Ohio State, the Tigers experienced none of the jitters that everyone expected.
When the first session was over, the Tigers had been the surprise of the meet. They finished third out of the six teams with a 187.975 score. With their 187.975 team score, the Tigers finished ahead of Florida (187.175), Arizona (187.175) and Ohio State (183.650). Oregon State (189.950) and Cal State Fullerton (189.700) managed to finish ahead of Towson.
"We hit 23 of 24 routines and just did an outstanding job," said Coach Filbert. "The teams that finished ahead of us did so because they had more talent, not because we didn’t perform."
After the second session was finished, it was announced that Towson had finished ninth in the nation.
"We came out of nowhere and nobody expected much out of us," said Filbert. "It was really exciting for us."
Weaver, one of six veterans of that team who is a member of the Towson University Athletic Hall of Fame, led the Tigers’ performance at Nationals. She earned a 38.275 all-around score to finish 19th in the nation. She also had a 9.625 on vault to lead the Tigers while her 9.675 score on bars earned her a tie for 27th place in the meet. On beam, she had a 9.65 score, tying her for 17th place.
"We came into the meet and did what we wanted to," said Weaver. "We weren’t worried about what the other teams were doing. We just had a lot of fun."
Tandy Knight, 91, a junior on the 1990 Tigers, also competed as an all-around performer at Oregon State. Another future Hall of Famer, she earned a 36.55 all-around score. With a 9.45 score on the floor exercise, she had the Tigers’ top score on the floor.
Only a freshman, Janine Spezio, 93 had a fine meet at Oregon State. Competing on three events, she had a 9.40 on vault, a career high 9.575 on beam and a 9.325 on floor. Spezio went on to have a stellar career and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2003.
At Nationals, the Tigers had a strong performance on the uneven bars. In addition to Weaver’s 9.675 score, Anne Sugden, 91 earned a 9.625 score while co-captain Carri Scott, 91 contributed a 9.45 to the effort.
The Tigers’ other two co-captains, seniors Lori Salindong, 90 and Stephanie St. Angelo, 90, closed out their careers with memorable performances. Salindong, who finished her career as Towson’s all-time scoring leader with 1,718.30 points, earned a 9.30 score on beam and a 9.325 on floor. She was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000.
St. Angelo, who finished her career as the Tigers’ third-leading all-time scorer with 1,430.275 points, earned 9.30 scores on vault and bars.
"It was just a great way for Lori and Steph to finish their careers," said Filbert. "They contributed so much to the program and they were here when we started in Division I. It’s amazing that both of them competed as well as they did for four years of college."
Leslie Robinson, 92, Julie Heilman, 92, Gabby Linarducci, 93 and Maureen Greim, 93 also competed for the Tigers in 1990.
The Tigers’ experience at Oregon State was highlighted by the announcement that Coach Filbert was named as the co-winner of the National Coach of the Year. He shared the honor with Greg Marsden of the University of Utah, the team that won the national championship.
"Winning that award was a great way to cap off an incredible year," recalls Filbert, who will be starting his 27th season as the Towson coach. "We went out there and nobody knew us. A lot of the other coaches who had been there before warned me not to expect too much from our team since it was our first time at Nationals.
"But our gymnasts came out and did great," he added. "We beat some teams that had been national powers for years. I couldn’t have asked any more from my team. Winning the award was really a tribute to our team and our program more than it was an individual award."
While the Tigers got plenty of respect and Coach Filbert got a national award, the other teams at Nationals also got an answer to the "Where’s Towson?" question.
Weaver said the Tiger gymnasts would just smile and answer "ahead of Florida, Arizona and Ohio State."
The 1990 Tigers will be honored as a Team of Distinction at Towson University's Athletic Hall of Fame Dinner on Friday evening, October 10 at the University Union.