NCAA men’s gymnastics Week 4 recap: Michigan, Nebraska win Big Ten dual meets; OU fends off Illinois in narrow win at home

Michigan and Nebraska defeated Big Ten foes in two tightly contested dual meets on a Saturday full of exciting NCAA men’s gymnastics meets.

The Wolverines put up a 409.2 to beat the Buckeyes by five points and set a new top score in the conference. Nebraska rallied to earn a close victory over the Nittany Lions in State College.

OU prevailed over Illinois in a tri-meet with Air Force in Norman, but the Illini came within a point of the Sooners and put up a season-best 404.45.

Here’s a recap of Week 4 in NCAA men’s gymnastics.

Michigan sets new Big Ten standard in win over Ohio State

The Wolverines put up the best score in the Big Ten (409.2) on their way to defeating Ohio State in a dual meet in Ann Arbor.

Michigan’s Lais Najjar got the meet started with a big lead-off floor set, sticking his triple full dismount to earn a 14.2 and set the tone for the meet. Freshman Landen Blixt scored a 14.65 later in the rotation with a front layout to randi, double-double, and a back 1.5 to a front double full for the event title. Adam Wooten anchored the lineup with a 14.1. Michigan finished the rotation ahead by almost two points and would lead after every subsequent event.

Landen Blixt (Michigan) – FX vs. Ohio State

The Buckeyes suffered a couple falls on floor but ended the rotation well with sets from Kazuki Hayashi and Kameron Nelson, who showed off a front full to double front, front double pike, and a soaring Arabian double half-out with a crisp kick-out. Nelson tied Michigan’s Najjar for second on floor.

Both teams counted falls on horse, but the Buckeyes made up ground on the event. Ohio State’s Parker Thackston performed another confident set featuring two E flops and a smooth handstand dismount for the event title with a 14.1. Michigan’s Fred Richard responded with a 14.05 in a 5.7-difficulty routine that included a scissor handstand, triple Russian between the handles, two flared spindles, a traveling flared spindle, and a well-fought triple Russian dismount. Ohio State was 0.6 better on the event and within 1.5 points of Michigan after two.

But the Wolverines started pulling away again on rings, scoring a 68.5 to Ohio’s 66.9. Michigan’s David Willett opened the rotation on a high note, sticking his 1.5-twisting double back. Colin Stenger and Javier Alfonso executed good sets, scoring 13.8 and 13.7, respectively, before Chris Read punctuated Michigan’s rotation with a 14.25. Read performed a kip Maltese, back-uprise Maltese, and a stuck double-double dismount for a runner-up finish. Ohio State’s Donovan Hewitt earned the event title with steady strength elements — back uprise straight planche lower to Maltese, back uprise Maltese — and a layout full-twisting double back dismount. Nelson earned a third place finish (13.85) after sticking his double-double. Both teams went five-for-five on rings.

Michigan and Ohio State went five-for-five on vault as well and were within 0.2 on the event. The Wolverines’ David Wolma (14.75) took the event title after floating his Kas 1.5 and easily finding the landing, taking a controlled hop forward. Blixt was second with a clean Yurchenko 2.5 (14.65). Ohio State’s Caden Spencer rounded out the podium with a Kas 1.5 that earned him a 14.5.

Michigan entered the last two events with a three-point lead and added to its advantage on both parallel bars and high bar. The Wolverines had better difficulty scores than the Buckeyes on parallel bars thanks to big sets from Evgeny Siminiuc and Richard that helped absorb two falls on the event. Siminiuc performed a peach half, straddle front one-and-a-quarter, Bhavsar, and double pike dismount to score 14.55. Richard’s 5.8-difficulty set comprised a Makutz, Bhavsar, front one-and-a-quarter, and double front dismount. He won the event with a 14.85, while Siminiuc placed second.

The Buckeyes’ Spencer led the team’s parallel bars rotation with a 14.2 and a 9.2 execution score for a third-place finish. Ohio State was about a point behind Michigan on parallel bars.

Parker Thackston (Ohio State) – PH @ Michigan

Michigan’s roughly one-point advantage in difficulty on high bar allowed the team to take a miss and finish about a point higher than the Buckeyes on the event. Richard anchored the rotation and won the event with a 14.65 after catching a Cassina and Kolman, layout to straddle Tkatchev, and landing his layout double-double. The Wolverines’ Siminiuc tied for second with Ohio State’s Hayashi, who stuck his layout full-twisting double back after moving through a layout Tkatchev connected to pike Tkatchev and a big Kovacs.

The Wolverines’ 409.2 was achieved while resting Richard on a few events and without Paul Juda, who’s still recovering from injury. Michigan also counted a handful of misses and underperformed their season high on horse. All that’s to say that Michigan — after entering 2023 as a favorite for a Big Ten title — may in fact be the most competitive team in the conference. The team’s superior difficulty is a big factor in its favor. The Wolverines’ total potential team score — calculated by taking their best five scores on each event so far this season — is second only to Stanford’s. Michigan faces another challenge this weekend, taking on Nebraska in Lincoln on Saturday.

Ohio State’s 404.0 proved the team’s upset win over Penn State the previous weekend was no fluke. The Buckeyes now rank No. 3 nationally. Ohio State may lack the difficulty of Michigan, but their top scores this season are in line with the rest of the conference teams. The Buckeyes are off this weekend and return to competition Feb. 11 in a dual meet against Illinois in Columbus. 

Nebraska secures Big Ten road win over Penn State

The Huskers came out on top in a close dual meet at Penn State that saw the lead change hands after four separate rotations.

Penn State started out five-for-five on floor with Michael Artlip and Matt Cormier leading the rotation. Artlip stuck his back 2.5 dismount to earn a runner-up finish. Nebraska counted three falls on the event, but senior Taylor Christopulos came up with a clutch routine in the anchor spot to salvage the rotation. Christopulos performed a layout double-double and stuck his triple full dismount to win the event with a 14.3. Penn State was up by 2.2 after floor.

Taylor Christopulos (Nebraska) – FX @ Penn State

Nebraska gained the lead after horse and had the top four scores on the event, with Cooper Giles’ 14.0 leading the way. Giles performed a full Kehr, E flop and D flop, and clean travel elements to secure the event tile. Christopulos and Nathan York rounded out the podium with scores of 13.6 and 13.5, respectively. Penn State was forced to count three falls on the event, meanwhile. Josh Karnes led the rotation for the Nittany Lions despite suffering a fall on a flared spindle element. Nebraska led by almost 2.5 points after horse, thanks to a season-best pommel score of 66.9.

Penn State took back the lead on rings and held it until the sixth rotation. The Nittany Lions showed off difficult strength elements across the lineup and took each of the top five places on the event. Cormier stuck his double-double dismount to lead off the rotation and place third. Ian Raubal and Michael Jaroh rounded out the podium places later in the rotation, with Jaroh capturing the event win after sticking his double-double for a 14.2. Nebraska counted one fall and had to overcome a disadvantage in difficulty score to Penn State. The Huskers’ Asher Cohen and Chris Hiser led their rings lineup with matching scores of 13.35. Nebraska trailed Penn State by about a point-and-a-half after rings.

Both teams went five-for-five on vault, but Nebraska made up significant ground on the event, scoring a season-high 71.8. The Huskers’ Donte McKinney planted a huge Yurchenko 2.5 to win the event with a 14.8, and each of Nebraska’s vaults scored higher than 14. Luke James was third on the event after executing a nice Kas 1.5. Penn State’s Artlip opened the rotation for the Nittany Lions by sticking his Yurchenko double full for a runner-up finish. Cormier was next-best for the Nittany Lions, scoring a 14.25 with his Kas 1.5. By the end of the event, Nebraska was less than two-tenths back from Penn State.

Penn State was best on parallel bars, scoring a 65.1 to Nebraska’s 63.9, despite counting a couple misses on Makutz elements. Karnes won the event (14.35) with a smooth routine that featured a Bhavsar and a stuck double front. Jaroh performed a clutch routine in the anchor spot, competing a peach diam and giant diam for a runner-up finish (14.1). Nebraska counted one fall on a dismount and three scores in the 12s. Christopulos was best on the event for the Huskers, scoring 13.2 for a third-place finish.

Josh Karnes (Penn State) – PB vs. Nebraska

The Nittany Lions were ahead by a little over a point going into the last rotation, but Penn State was forced to count an early missed routine and a fall later in the rotation, allowing Nebraska to take the meet with a five-for-five performance on high bar. The Huskers’ Zachary Tiderman and McKinney went one-two on the event. Tiderman (13.95) performed a Tak half right to handstand, a layout connected to straddle Tkatchev, and a pike Tkatchev. McKinney (13.65) displayed his own Tak half directly to handstand and big layout and straddle Tkatchevs.

Penn State’s early miss set the team back, but the Nittany Lions recovered well with strong sets in the middle of the lineup. Karnes led Penn State’s rotation with a nice layout Tkatchev, a straddle Tkatchev connected to pike, and a stuck dismount. Cormier came off on his Kolman at the end of the rotation in what would’ve been a high-scoring set. He finished the routine very well, but Penn State’s 63.4 on the event was almost three points back from Nebraska on high bar. The Huskers finished the meet with a 399.55 to Penn State’s 398.0.

Illini come within a point of OU in loss to Sooners

Oklahoma eked out a win over Illinois, 405.4-404.45, and defeated Air Force in a tri-meet on Saturday in Norman, with the Sooners narrowly extending their 16+ year home win streak.

The Sooners started out with a big rotation on floor, nearly matching their nation-best season high of 69.55. Vitaliy Guimaraes led the rotation and won the event with a 14.75, performing a front full to double front, double-double, and a stuck triple full dismount. Spencer Goodell was next-best for the Sooners, earning a 13.9 for a third-place finish with a unique triple-connection opening pass of front double full to front layout to front full. Goodell stuck each of his first three passes, including a double-double and front double pike.

Oklahoma then had a season-best performance on horse — while counting two falls — led by Ignacio Yockers, who put up a 14.8 to win the event. Yockers glided through a loop-loop-Russian E flop, full Kehr, a second E flop, Wu, and triple Russian. His 14.8 is the best horse score of the 2023 NCAA season. Teammate Zach Nunez was close behind on pommel with a 14.3 and third-place finish.

The Sooners slowed down somewhat on rings and vault, underperforming the previous week by two points on vault and one point on rings. OU’s Alan Camillus led the rings rotation with a 13.5 for a third-place finish, performing a back uprise straight planche and sticking his full-twisting double layout dismount. Guimaraes was best among the Sooners on vault (14.95), taking the tiniest of “hops” after landing his Yurchenko 2.5 for the event title. Oklahoma incurred significant deductions on their landings on vault and had to count two falls, both on front handspring double fronts.

Oklahoma rebounded on parallel bars with a season-high score of 68.05, with Raydel Gamboa and Guimaraes leading the charge and tying for second place (14.1). Gamboa performed a Makutz, clean elements through support, and a nearly-stuck double pike dismount. Guimaraes stuck his double pike dismount and earned a 9.3 execution score.

The Sooners then went four-for-five on high bar — in hits and in stuck dismounts — but had to count a two-fall routine in the 11s when Jack Freeman struggled in the anchor position. Their high bar score of 64.95 was a roughly four-point drop from the previous weekend’s score on the event (though judging differences were probably a factor). Still, Gamboa won the event with a 13.65 after catching his Kovacs, layout Tkatchev, and sticking his layout double-double dismount.

The Illini might have had the best weekend of any NCAA team after coming within a point of OU in Norman for the first time since 1981, according to Illinois athletics. Illinois had an exceptional horse rotation to put up a nation-leading 69.0 on the event. The team set a season-high on floor as well.

Illinois started the meet on rings and had the best rotation of all three teams, with Ashton Anaya (14.0) and Josh Cook (13.6) placing first and second, respectively. Anaya showed off an Azarian maltese, a Balandin to straight planche, and a full-twisting double layout dismount. Cook performed a couple of straight planches and a tucked double-double dismount.

The Illini’s season-high on floor came after Connor McCool hit another strong set for a 14.6, earning a runner-up finish and leading the lineup. McCool stuck three difficult passes: his 2.5-twisting double back opening pass, his back 3.5 penultimate pass, and his triple-full dismount. Illinois counted one miss on the event.

On horse, Ian Skirkey hit his 6.5-difficulty set for a 14.45 to lead the Illini to a nation-best performance on the event. Skirkey performed two E flops, full Kehr, full Stockli, Wu, Roth, and a triple Russian dismount to anchor the rotation and place second. Sophomore Max Farkhadau scored a 14.1 for a fourth-place finish.

Illinois led OU after the first three events by a little over a point. The Illini went four-for-five in their counting sets on the next event, high bar, but had to count a 10.9, pulling down the event score to a season-low. Tate Costa and Evan Manivong led the rotation with scores of 13.6 and 13.55 for second and third place finishes, respectively.

OU had retaken the lead from Illinois after the fourth rotation. Illinois then put up the meet’s best vault score but counted a fall and a half-miss. Amari Sewell was best on vault for Illinois, placing second with a huge Kas 1.5 that earned a 14.75. Michael Fletcher was close behind Sewell, placing fourth with his Kas 1.5.

Illinois entered the last rotation two points back from OU. An upset seemed entirely possible — parallel bars is generally a higher-scoring event than high bar. But Illinois had to count one fall and two scores in the 12s, allowing Oklahoma to close out high bar with a win despite a fall. David Pochinka led the Illini on parallel bars, placing fourth with a 13.95 after executing a peach half, peach, and nearly sticking his double front dismount.

Air Force had a rough day on high bar and floor and saw its scores decline from the previous week on five-of-six events. The Falcons’ 380.45 was a roughly 17 point drop from their season opener at the Rocky Mountain Open.

Pommel horse was a bright spot for Air Force; the team’s 64.85 on the event was a significant improvement over the prior meet. Sam Brown led the Falcons on horse, scoring a 13.75 for a fifth-place finish.

Erich Upton had a strong meet, winning both the all-around and parallel bars. Upton went 14.2 on parallel bars after performing a nice peach handstand, healy, and double pike dismount. He also finished sixth on rings, while the Falcons’ Garrett Braunton finished third on vault with an excellent Yurchenko 2.5.

Around the nation

Stanford defeated Cal 406.75 to 390.1 in Palo Alto on Saturday as many of its top gymnasts competed separately representing “Team USA.”

Asher Hong, Ian Lasic-Ellis, Jeremy Bischoff, and Riley Loos competed for USA, meaning their scores didn’t count toward Stanford’s total. Still, Hong (84.4) and Lasic-Ellis (84.25) placed first and second, respectively, in the all-around with Khoi Young close behind. Team leader and 2022 world high bar champion Brody Malone has yet to compete this season.

Khoi Young (Stanford) – VT @ Stanford Open

The Cardinal struggled on horse — counting two routines in the 11s — but still coasted their way to a win. Sophomore Young had an outstanding all-around performance, scoring an 84.0 for the best six-event total in NCAA this season (since Hong and Lasic-Ellis’ scores didn’t count for Stanford). Young also won floor (14.4), placed second on vault (14.95) after nearly sticking his upgraded Yurchenko half-on double full off, finished third on parallel bars (14.45), and got second on high bar after a tiebreak (13.75). Not a bad day. Stanford’s Mark Berlaga won rings with a 14.75 and a nice back uprise to inverted cross, uprise Maltese, and front double pike dismount. Brandon Briones was fourth on the event after performing his own inverted cross, clean Malteses, and a full-twisting double layout. Ian Gunther took the high bar title, connecting layout and straddle Tkatchevs and sticking his full-twisting double layout dismount.

Hong won parallel bars (14.8), vault (with a would-be nation-best 15.35 for his Ri Se Gwang), and placed second on floor (14.3).

Cal counted a couple falls on rings and saw their scores decline from the previous meet on three events. The Bears’ Will Lavanakul placed third on horse with a 13.65 in a 6.0-difficulty set, and Noah Newfeld finished fifth on parallel bars with a 14.2.

Army earned a road win over Springfield on Sunday with a 381.55 – an almost nine-point drop from the Black Knights’ previous meet.

Pommel horse was where Army recorded the bulk of its decline. They scored a 58.65 on the event versus a 64.0 the prior meet.

Joseph Buselmeier (Army) – HB @ Springfield

The Black Knights earned titles on four events, and Joseph Buselmeier had a big day, winning two events in addition to the all-around. Gabe Almeida won horse and placed second on floor, Johnathan Pinc was first on vault with a 14.6, and Buselmeier took both the parallel bars and high bar titles.

Springfield’s 377.65 was a more than 10-point rebound from its previous meet, though still another 10 points back from its season-opener score of 388.15. The Pride faced challenges during their floor rotation, scoring only 59.0 compared with their season-high of 65.35.

Still, Felix Kriedemann won that event with a 13.8 and a stuck triple full dismount. The Pride’s David Handron took the rings title with a 13.45. Jakarie Williams was runner-up on vault with a 14.4 for his stuck Kas full, and Noah Dhaliwal was second on parallel bars.

Navy put up its second-best total of the year on the way to beating William & Mary at home.

The Mids’ 393.3 was only about a point back from the team’s season high from Week 1. Navy also swept the event titles.

Navy improved from last week on every event except for high bar, where it counted a season-low event total. The Mids’ Isaiah Drake had a strong competition, winning rings and placing second on high bar and vault, as did Connor Van Loo, who won floor and vault. Vishal Mandava won horse, Caleb Hickey was first on parallel bars, and Giovanni Gambatese took the high bar title. Navy will compete against Army in West Point on Saturday.

William & Mary scored a 365.1 and earned a season high on vault with a 67.7. The team also improved on pommel horse but stumbled on floor, parallel bars, and high bar. 

The Tribe’s Christian Marsh tied for second on rings with a 13.15, displaying strong Maltese work and a stuck dismount. William & Mary’s Ricky Pizem and Evan Sikra were fourth and fifth, respectively, on high bar.

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