NCAA men’s gymnastics Week 10 preview: Illinois-Nebraska faceoff, Ohio State hosts OU, Penn State

A matchup between Big Ten foes and a tri-meet with OU, Penn State, and Ohio State are set to headline Week 10 of NCAA men’s gymnastics. 

Illinois will host Nebraska on Sunday in what should be a heated battle for position in the Big Ten conference. On Saturday, Stanford, Air Force, and Navy will meet in Annapolis, and Cal will welcome Army and William & Mary.

Here’s what to watch in Week 10 of NCAA men’s gymnastics. 

Illinois takes on Nebraska at home

The Illini fell last week to Stanford by a more than 10-point margin while posting a team score below 400 for the fourth time this season.

On paper, Illinois is a slight underdog to Nebraska heading into this weekend’s matchup: Illinois’ top score this year is almost 10 points less than Nebraska’s, and Nebraska’s four-score average is more than 2.5 points higher than that of Illinois. 

Still, Illinois is undefeated at home this year and has shown a knack for beating conference rivals throughout the season, notwithstanding its Week 6 loss to the Buckeyes. Illinois has beaten Michigan, Penn State, and came within a point of Oklahoma earlier this season. All that’s to say the Illini will be competing for a win and nothing less this Saturday, and the competition could be the weekend’s most exciting. 

Routines to watch from the Illini include: 

  • Connor McCool’s floor. This pick should come as a surprise to no one: McCool continues to hit sets and stick landings at a remarkable rate. He won the event against Stanford and Cal last week, sticking his dismount and showing off an improved triple-connection pass. 
  • David Pochinka’s parallel bars. Pochinka tied his career-high on the event with a 14.6 last weekend to take the title, performing clean peach work and a double-front dismount while maintaining a steady rhythm throughout the routine. 
  • Kyle Mayotte’s and Ryan Vanichtheeranont‘s high bar. Mayotte and Vanichtheeranont tied Pochinka for second place on high bar last weekend. Mayotte has a nice Tak half and Zou Li Min, while Vanichtheeranont performs a trio of lofty release elements. 
  • Ian Skirkey’s horse. The pommel virtuoso competes one of the most difficult routines you’ll see this year. 

Nebraska didn’t compete last weekend, but Taylor Christopulos is coming off a strong Winter Cup performance that earned him a spot on the national team. And the Huskers’ last time out, in Week 7, was their best meet of the year by far: Nebraska posted a 417.65 to get within a point of OU and set the best score in the Big Ten by a seven-point margin. 

The Huskers will enter Champagne rested and hungry for a conference win after falling to Michigan in their last Big Ten dual meet. Routines to watch from the Huskers include: 

  • Christopulos’ floor. The Husker junior opens his set with a layout double-double and ranks No. 4 in the country on the event. 
  • Donte McKinney’s high bar. The Nissen-Emery Award finalist performs one of the country’s best layout Tkatchevs, floating at least a foot above the bar. McKinney is No. 3 in the nation on high bar.
  • Chris Hiser’s rings. Hiser won the rings title against Oklahoma in Week 7 by a healthy margin, competing a back uprise to straight planche, back uprise Maltese, and sticking his double-double dismount. 

Ohio State hosts Penn State, Oklahoma

The Sooners haven’t lost a meet since Week 3 at Rocky Mountain and have proved capable since then of taking down Stanford and other top teams, including Michigan and Nebraska. That makes OU a heavy favorite to win over Penn State and Ohio State at the Saturday tri-meet in Columbus. 

Last weekend, Oklahoma defended its home win streak against a strong challenge from the Wolverines, securing a roughly four-point victory. Jack Freeman sealed the OU win by sticking his high bar dismount in the anchor spot to take the event title and conclude his time competing in Norman. 

Routines to watch from OU include: 

  • Freeman’s high bar. His clutch set last weekend was but the latest example of Freeman’s ability to hit big sets under pressure. The senior has scored as high as a 14.4 this year.
  • Vitaliy Guimaraes’ floor. The OU fifth-year won the event against Michigan last weekend with a front full to double front opening pass and clean triple full dismount. His top score of the year on floor is a 14.75. 
  • Ignacio Yockers’ horse. No surprise here. Yockers continues to demonstrate incredible confidence and poise while competing his difficult horse routine, scoring 15 or above three times so far this season. It’s easy to forget Yockers is only a freshman.

Penn State defeated William & Mary last weekend while resting a few guys who were at the prior weekend’s Winter Cup meet, where Nittany Lion sophomore Josh Karnes secured a national team spot. The Nittany Lions will be focused on finding a way to defeat the Buckeyes after a mixed season in the conference so far: Penn State has beaten Michigan but also lost to Illinois and Nebraska in dual meets.

Routines to watch from Penn State include:

  • Karnes’ parallel bars. Karnes has one of the best Bhavsars in the country and a dynamic routine otherwise. He won the event last weekend.
  • Matt Cormier’s floor. Cormier ranks No. 1 in the country on the event, competing a routine that includes a back 3.5 and a clean triple-full dismount. 
  • Ian Raubal’s high bar. Raubal notched a season-high last weekend of 13.9 to win the event. His routine features a Tak full, Tak half, layout Tkatchev, and stalder Rybalko. 

Ohio State enters the weekend having set a more than 4.5-point season-high against Army last Saturday. Freshman Caden Spencer had a massive day, winning three events and finishing second on a fourth, and Donovan Hewitt won an event and finished on the podium on two others. 

The Buckeyes will look to apply momentum from their confident victory to the challenge of defending their home turf against OU. They’ll also need to be on their game to fend off a Penn State team raring to capture a conference win during the first and last matchup between the two teams before the Big Ten Championships. 

Routines to watch from Ohio State include: 

  • Spencer’s high bar. The Buckeye freshman hit another strong set last weekend to earn the title. He competes a straddle Piatti in addition to a few excellent Tkatchev elements. 
  • Hewitt’s rings. Hewitt secured the event win last weekend with a 14.0 after holding his back uprise to straight planche, back uprise Maltese, and landing a 1.5-twisting double back. 
  • Kameron Nelson’s floor. Nelson added another floor title last weekend after winning the event at Winter Cup, scoring a 14.4 after landing a full to double front and front double pike. 

Stanford, Air Force travel to Navy

Brody Malone was back competing for the Cardinal last weekend across five events, helping to lift his team to a win over Illinois and Cal. The return of Malone means Saturday’s tri-meet could feature one of the most complete Stanford teams we’ve seen so far this year.

That said, Stanford will still be without Riley Loos, who’s competing at the FIG Apparatus World Cup in Baku, Azerbaijan, this weekend with a couple former teammates. Malone, Asher Hong, and Jeremy Bischoff will travel to Stuttgart, Germany, next weekend for another international assignment, so it’s possible they could rest on some events this Saturday.

Routines to watch from the Cardinal include: 

  • Hong’s parallel bars. Hong, who is No. 1 in the country on the event, will be eager to shake off a couple errors he had on parallel bars last weekend and get back into the high-14 range. 
  • Khoi Young‘s pommel horse. Young hit his best routine of the season last week to score a 14.65 and take the title in a set that featured a Busnari, scissor handstand, two E flops, and other difficult elements.
  • Malone’s high bar. Malone missed his Tak full and caught a couple releases close to the bar in a watered-down routine last weekend. It’s safe to expect the 2022 high bar corld champion will be back in top form this weekend. 

Air Force last competed at the All-Academy Championships in Week 7, beating Navy by 3.5 points and coming roughly within a point of its top score of the year. The Falcons have a chance to again prove their dominance among the Academy teams this weekend ahead of the USAG Nationals meet, where Air Force and Navy will battle again. 

Routines to watch from the Falcons include: 

  • Erich Upton’s floor. Upton is the only gymnast in the country to compete a triple-twisting double back on floor, and the intricate element looked dialed for Upton at All-Academy.
  • Patrick Hoopes’ horse. Hoopes scored a 14.992 Day 1 of Winter Cup and has scored as high as a 14.2 in NCAA competition. 
  • Jack Matlock’s horse. Matlock earned 13.9s at back-to-back meets and helped lead Air Force’s horse rotation to its second-best score of the year at All-Academy. 

Navy scored above the 390 mark again on Sunday, hitting 28-of-30 routines to defeat William & Mary. The Mids last competed against Air Force at All-Academy and fell to the Falcons, so expect to see a Navy team keen to avenge that loss this Saturday. 

Routines to watch from Navy include: 

  • Ronan McQuillan’s horse. The Navy junior won the pommel horse title by a more than one-point margin last week, hitting a set that comprised a D flop, E flop, Roth, and swing handstand dismount.  
  • Erik Engelke’s rings. Engelke stuck his 1.5-twisting double back dismount last weekend to take the title with a 13.1. 
  • Connor Van Loo’s and Isaiah Drake’s vaults. Both gymnasts stuck their vaults last meet. Van Loo competed a Yurchenko double full and stuck it cold, while Drake planted his Kas 1.5. 

Cal hosts tri-meet with Army, William & Mary 

The Bears competed against Stanford and Illinois last weekend, setting a new season high on pommel and their second-best score of the year on vault. This weekend, Cal will be focused on breaking into the 390s after breaching that mark twice early in the season. The team will be well on its way there if it repeats its vault and horse performances from last week and cleans up on rings and high bar – the Bears’ two weakest events last week. 

Cal will also look to defend home territory against a close rival in Army. By four-score average, the Bears are ranked one spot higher by only about a point, and the teams’ top scores of the season are comparable. 

Routines to watch from Cal include:

  • Jasper Smith-Gordon’s vault. Smith-Gordon broke the modern school record for Cal last weekend after landing a Kas double full with excellent preflight form. 
  • Aidan Li’s horse. Li led his team to its best pommel score of the year last weekend, performing an E flop, D flop, Wu, and triple Russian to score 14.0 for third place. 
  • Noah Sano’s parallel bars. Sano notched his second-best score of the season on Saturday (13.8) after hitting a set that included a Makutz, healy, and stuck double pike dismount. 

Army fell to the Buckeyes last weekend by more than 20 points following mistakes on rings and high bar. But the Black Knights also set a season-high score on pommel horse and tied their second-best total of the year on floor. Army can challenge Cal this weekend by scoring in the high 380s and finding a way to hit high-pressure routines while competing on the road. 

Routines to watch from Army include:

  • Maddox Pabellon’s horse. Pabellon won the event against Ohio State last weekend with a routine that included a Sohn, E flop, D flop, Tong Fei, and swing handstand dismount. 
  • Gabe Almeida’s horse. Almeida was also integral to Army’s season-best pommel effort, scoring a 14.05 for his best total of the year and a third-place finish. 
  • Joseph Buselmeier’s parallel bars. Buselmeier was runner-up on the event last weekend after performing a whip it, healy, and double pike dismount to score a 13.65.

William & Mary competed twice last weekend: first versus Penn State on Friday and then on Sunday against Navy. At Friday’s meet, the Tribe tallied a more than five-point season high and their best scores of the year on floor, pommel horse, rings, and parallel bars. William & Mary also scored into the mid-380s on Friday for the first time this season. A similar score will allow the team to compete with Army and Cal this weekend. 

Routines to watch from the Tribe include: 

  • Will Harrington’s floor. Harrington was runner-up against the Nittany Lions last week, scoring a 13.55 for a set that included a double layout opening pass and full-twisting double back dismount. 
  • Christian Marsh’s rings. Marsh finished fourth on Friday, performing a back uprise Maltese push to straight planche and a triple back dismount. 
  • Aidan Cuy’s parallel bars. Cuy was runner-up on the event against Navy on Sunday with a season-best score of 13.8, performing a free-hip mount, Diam half, and sticking his double pike dismount. 

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