Another week, another big upset in NCAA men’s gymnastics.
This time it was Ohio State that managed to defeat a Big Ten rival in Penn State at Saturday’s Navy Open. Nebraska also triumphed over Michigan at the Rocky Mountain Open to claim their place at the top of the Big Ten rankings.
Read on for a recap of the week’s matchups.
Stanford prevails over OU and an ascendent Nebraska squad
The Cardinal was back in top form on Saturday, scoring a 420.1 at the Rocky Mountain Open for the nation’s best team total by a roughly eight-point margin. Oklahoma and Nebraska kept pressure on the Cardinal throughout the meet with their own season-best performances. Michigan struggled to keep pace with the top 3, but freshman Fred Richard turned in an excellent all-around performance, scoring an 83.2 to win the meet.
Before breaking down the competition, let’s take a second to focus on Stanford’s exceptional vault rotation. Freshman Asher Hong’s explosive Ri Se Gwang, believed to be the first ever performed in NCAA, earned him a huge 15.0 — and that was good for only third. His Cardinal teammates Zach Martin and Khoi Young took the top two spots with scores of 15.1 and 15.05, respectively. Martin floated and stuck his Kas 1.5, and Young stuck his Yurchenko half-on, 1.5-off. Taylor Burkhart took fourth with a clean Yurchenko half-on, double-full off for a 14.85. Stanford finished the event with a 74.4 for a nation-best performance by more than two points.
Stanford started out the meet on high bar with a couple falls, including a few missed releases and a mistimed Tkatchev by Jeremy Bischoff that landed him on top of the bar. The Cardinal also counted misses on floor but bounced back in a big way on horse.
While Stanford’s vault rotation was the clear high point of the meet, the team’s biggest win probably came on pommel. The Cardinal improved by more than five points on the event, with Hong’s 14.0 a more than two-point jump from the previous meet alone. Stanford might be the only team in the NCAA to have multiple scissor handstands and full Kehrs on horse in their lineup. Hong’s routine featured a scissor handstand, flared spindles, and two E flops and earned him second in a tie with teammate Ian Gunther. Gunther showcased a full kehr, full Stockli and scissor handstand. He suffered a few form breaks during the set and could easily approach the mid-14s after eliminating those.
Hong also won rings (14.8), parallel bars (15.25), and finished with a five-event total of 72.95 after sitting out high bar. Brandon Briones was runner-up on rings with a 14.2. J.R. Chou was second on parallel bars with a 14.75 and a stuck double-front dismount.
Stanford’s advantage in difficulty was on display all competition. The team’s start values give it such a significant cushion that misses can be absorbed relatively comfortably. Falls matter less, and members of the team are probably less affected by them mentally.
The Cardinal team is also plain fun to watch. Many of their guys bring a poise to the NCAA honed during international-competition pressure. They also casually compete skills that we don’t often see at the college level: Ri Se Gwang, a Walstrom by Burkhart, multiple inverted crosses, double front half-out dismounts, etc. If the team has a weakness, it’s high bar, so we’ll keep an eye on their hit percentage there throughout the season.
Oklahoma opened their NCAA season with the country’s second-best score, and it seems reasonable to think OU once again will be Stanford’s top challenger in 2023.
The Sooners started the meet on parallel bars, going five-for-five but counting a number of small mistakes that resulted in an event score that trailed Stanford’s by about 3.5 points. They then tied the Huskers for the meet and the country’s best high bar total. Jack Freeman led that rotation, showing off a huge layout Tkatchev, a Kolman, and a straddle Tkatchev connected to a pike Tkatchev for a 14.25.
Freeman earned the team’s top score on the next rotation too, with a back 1.5 to front double full, a tucked double-double third pass, and a stuck triple full dismount. This just hours after being tapped to replace teammate Fuzzy Benas, who opted to not compete while nursing a bruised heel. OU recorded the best floor score of 2023 with a 69.55.
The Sooners struggled on rings after a strong horse rotation, though, counting three scores in the 12s after some perhaps rushed holds on strength elements. Their 66.3 on rings trailed the scores of Stanford, Nebraska, and Michigan on the event.
Oklahoma’s Zach Nunez won the horse title with a 14.05 after some nice and square traveling elements and a smooth dismount.
OU remains a team of disciplined competitors who know how to hit. The Sooners have placed in the top 2 at Rocky Mountain in 23 of the last 24 seasons, according to OU athletics, and that’s largely thanks to an ability to hit routines when it counts. Hits win meets, but OU’s difficulty may not be enough to challenge Stanford, even when the latter counts misses.
Nebraska’s third-place finish at Rocky Mountain vaulted the team to first place in the Big Ten standings. The Huskers’ 405.3 was the third-best team total in the Big Ten so far this year and right in line with the 405.35 that the Buckeyes put up at a separate meet on Saturday. The Huskers had a superb high bar rotation that helped rally the team after mistakes on parallel bars.
Nebraska’s Taylor Christopulos had a banner day, snagging the floor title and a third-place finish all-around with an 81.8. His floor set featured two double-doubles — one laid out and one tucked — and a stuck triple full dismount. James Friedman was also key to the Husker effort.
The Huskers started out on vault with three scores in the 14s. Christopulos’ Kas 1.5 earned him a 14.6, while Luke James went 14.2 with the same vault. Donte McKinney garnered a 14.1 after over-rotating an otherwise excellent Yurchenko 2.5 and taking a few steps forward.
Nebraska then suffered a couple falls on parallel bars but bounced back on high bar for a nation-best 69.05. McKinney led the high bar rotation (14.25) with a routine comprising gorgeous Tak and inbar work, a soaring layout Tkatchev, and a stuck full-twisting double layout dismount. Sophomore Zac Tiderman was right behind McKinney with a 14.1 and a routine featuring connected layout and straddle Tkatchevs as well as a Tak half and jam that finished right in the handstand position.
Christopulos’ 14.4 on floor allowed Nebraska to shake off a couple falls on the event. Travis Wong then led the team on horse with a 13.75, and the Huskers closed the meet with a 67.55 on rings for the second-highest total of the competition on the event. Friedman stuck his double-double dismount on the event to tie for fifth with a career-high 13.9.
In beating Michigan and contending with OU, Nebraska showed themselves to be one of the best teams in the Big Ten. The Huskers also have plenty of potential to improve on their score after counting a few misses in what can be high-scoring routines. Nebraska now faces a huge Big Ten matchup this weekend against Penn State in State College that will help determine who’s the top dog in the conference.
Michigan had an excellent parallel bar rotation and looked strong throughout the first three rotations of rings, vault, and parallel bars. But they ran into trouble starting on high bar and couldn’t recover enough to challenge the top 3 teams. They hit only 19-of-30 routines.
On parallel bars, the Wolverines put up the nation’s second-best team score of 70.15 thanks to big sets from Evgeny Siminiuc, Lais Najjar, and Fred Richard. Siminiuc went 14.6 for third place with a clean peach half and stuck double pike dismount. Najjar was right behind with a 14.5 after steady above-bar work including a Stutz to one bar.
Michigan then had to count a few falls on high bar. Fortunately, Richard came up big to help salvage the rotation, scoring a 14.75 for a runner-up finish in a routine that included a giant Cassina, a Liukin, connected layout and straddle Tkatchevs, and a layout double-double dismount.
The Wolverines suffered additional mistakes on floor and horse. Michigan had the lowest team score of the meet on high bar, floor, and horse.
Richard’s performance was a clear positive for Michigan; he earned Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors for his meet. Another good sign was Crew Bold’s return to competition. Bold has been dealing with an injury in the early season, and it’s a boon for Michigan that he was able to hit routines on rings and high bar.
Air Force narrowly missed capturing an upset of Michigan, with the Falcons scoring 397.4 for the best score among the Academy teams this season. The Air Force-Navy-Army matchup will be a good one this year.
The Falcons’ strong night was capped by Garrett Braunton’s career-best 14.85 on high bar. Braunton glided through a Cassina, Kolman, layout Tkatchev, and straddle Tkatchev before landing his layout double-double dismount for the event title.
Braunton also led the team’s vault rotation with a 14.8 awarded for his nearly stuck Yurchenko 2.5. The Falcons put up a 71.8 on that event with four scores above 14.
The Falcons’ Erich Upton also had a good day, with a fourth-place finish on floor with a 14.15 and a 14.5 on vault.
Buckeyes earn a B1G upset at Navy Open
Ohio State started out the Navy Open with a high bar rotation that was more than four points better than the previous week’s, highlighted by Caden Spencer’s 13.9.
The Buckeyes rode the high bar momentum to floor and to horse, where they went five-for-five to score a nation-best 68.25. Freshmen Kristian Grahovski and Parker Thackston led that pommel effort. Grahovski performed clean flop work and a flared Magyar for a 14.25, while Thackston showed off a long swing and a great line to finish with a 14.0, counting a C dismount. Kameron Nelson and Justin Ah Chow turned in strong performances across multiple events.
Ohio State improved on every event save vault over the previous week. Kazuki Hayashi was also integral to the team’s four-point improvement on high bar. He went 13.6 for third. The Buckeyes were 2.5 points better on floor as well. Ohio State looked composed all day, proving themselves to be serious contenders in a very competitive Big Ten conference.
The Buckeyes’ Jesse Pakele and Hayashi also tied for first on floor. Nelson earned a runner-up finish on vault with a handspring double full as well as the bronze on floor.
Ohio State will take on another conference rival this week, facing Michigan in their first matchup counting toward a Big Ten regular season title.
Penn State finished the day with a 395.45, a more than 10-point drop from the previous week, after troubles on floor and horse and 11 missed routines in total. The Nittany Lions lost a combined 10 points on floor and horse versus their scores the week before.
The Nittany Lions’ Michael Jaroh still won the all-around with an 80.95, also claiming the rings title (13.8) and a runner-up finish on parallel bars (14.0). Matt Cormier took first on vault (14.75), and Josh Karnes won parallel bars by a good margin with his 14.35. Karnes was also runner-up on high bar with a 13.7.
“It was a good day in terms of experience and getting some guys in different events,” head coach Randy Jepson said in a post-meet interview with Penn State athletics.
Navy earned a podium finish with a 386.05 for bronze, and the Midshipmen’s Ronan McQuillan was third on horse (13.9). Navy head coach Kip Simons was pleased with the team’s performance and the younger members of his roster who are filling out lineup depth. Freshman Danilo Viciana was tenth on floor with a 13.15, and classmate Matthew Petros was eighth on vault with a 14.25. Isaiah Drake competed on three events and finished fourth on vault.
“The young guys stepped up, and we’re starting to see some depth in our key events,” Simons said in an interview with Navy athletics.
William & Mary and Springfield battled for the fourth-place spot, but the Tribe came out three points ahead with a 370.35. Tribe co-captain Christian Marsh stuck a lofty double front on parallel bars for a 13.85 and fourth-place finish. Co-captain Aiden Cuy was fourth all-around with a 74.35 and earned a sixth-place finish on parallel bars featuring excellent upper-bar work and a stuck dismount.
Springfield’s Dominic Ramalho and Sam Kaplan led the team with all-around performances of 75.85 and 72.45, respectively. The Pride’s Felix Kriedemann was fourth on floor.
Simpson took sixth with a 337.9 and improved by almost 20 points from the previous week. Michelangelo Villani put up a 14.05 on vault and an all-around total of 70.0. Simpson had a much better showing on floor, too, scoring a season-best 61.9 with strong contributions by Sterling Pariza and Milo Staley. The team also recorded a season-best on vault (67.3).
Illinois tallies 395.35 in win over Greenville
The Illini swept the event titles on their way to a 27-point win over Greenville. The team was coming off a big win at Windy City the previous weekend and, in the words of head coach Daniel Ribero, was forced to confront “some really challenging moments.”
Illinois performed standout routines on all six events. Connor McCool went 14.15 on floor with an impressive 2.5 twisting double back, a triple-connection pass of whipback to back 2.5 to front full, a back 3.5 as his second-to-last pass, and a clean triple full discount. Ian Skirkey won horse by a point with a 14.35 routine featuring a full Kehr and full Stockli.
Defending Big Ten rings champ Ashton Anaya scored a career-best 14.45 on the event for first after sticking his full-twisting double layout. Amari Sewell won vault with another big Kas 1.5 and his own 14.45.
David Pochinka took the parallel bars title with some beautiful peach work for a 14.0. Josh Cook claimed first on high bar after a huge Yamawaki, a clean Tak half, and a stuck dismount.
Greenville’s Ricky Mays and Major Bain placed third and fourth on vault with scores of 14.25 and 14.1, respectively, bringing the team within less than a point of Illinois on the event. The team notched a season-high on floor with a 62.1, led by Zach Connelly’s 12.7.
The Panthers’ Ryan Barela and Jacob Foster finished fourth and fifth, respectively, on rings. Greenville’s scores on that event, as well as parallel bars, declined from the week before, so if the Panthers can improve there, they should be on their way back to 370+.
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