Amazingly, we’re already five weeks into the NCAA season. Winter Cup is fast approaching, and before you know it, postseason will be bearing down upon us. Even though a few teams will enjoy a bit of a break here starting shortly, a few have already begun to find a groove. Oklahoma is doing Oklahoma things, Michigan is enjoying a resurgence and Stanford is doing everything they can to put themselves in the national title conversation.
Speaking of the Cardinal, a member of that team is the centerpiece of the One Thing We Learned this week:
Brody Malone Is The Next NCAA Superstar
In the NBA, and a couple of other professional sports, there’s something about athletes on the west coast that makes them fly under the radar. Well, I guess the main thing is that they’re usually starting games/matches/competitions while everyone on the east coast is settling into bed. In case that’s been you so far this season, let me clue you into the NCAA’s next superstar, Brody Malone:
I’d say that speaks for itself, but I’ll elaborate a bit. Though Malone came into his freshman year as arguably the top recruit in his class, there wasn’t a whole lot of chatter about his debut. He’s quickly changed things with two 84+ all-around performances in a row. His 84.55 from January 27 stands as the second-best single score this season behind Cameron Bock’s 84.7.
In a nutshell, it seems that we might have the NCAA’s next superstar on our hands. It will take a whole lot before we can put him into conversation alongside the Mikulak’s and Moldauer’s of the world, but you get my point.
It should be a lot of fun to follow Malone’s growth as a gymnast over the next four seasons.
With the inaugural Big Ten regular season championship title on the line, most of the conversation has surrounded the teams itching for their shot at the trophy. However, the four teams out west clearly wanted some shine for themselves as they all posted season-highs at the Pac-12 Invitational. Stanford made the biggest statement with a 19+ point victory in Tempe.
The Stanford Cardinal have found a new leader in freshman phenom Brody Malone. Just two years after Akash Modi’s departure, it looks like Thom Glielmi has already found another transcendent talent. Malone has been lights out so far in 2019 and was his usual self this past weekend. The freshman took home the all-around title with an 84.200 and placed in the top six on all six events.
Sophomore Andrew Bitner had a great performance as well, putting up an 81.100 in the all-around, good enough for fourth place. Grant Breckenridge finished right above him in third (81.750) and took second on high bar (13.700). Three Cardinal went 80+, reminding OU they are not the only team with multiple all-around threats.
David Jessen only competed on two events but made them count. Jessen took home both the pommel horse (13.950) and high bar (13.750) titles. Stanford will need more of the same from their pommel horse squad as this event is clearly their Achilles heel. All in all, it was another impressive showing for Stanford, but not enough to prove they are the top team. We will have to wait for MPSF Championships for them to have their shot at Oklahoma.
Cal posted a season high 398.800, inching closer and closer to jumping the 400 mark. They were led to a second place finish and it was once again Darren Wong who paced the Bears. His 80.900 was good enough for fifth place as the freshman continues to churn out solid performances. The Golden Bears have something very special in this guy.
Fellow Canadian Aaron Mah was also great for Cal, including a 13.650 high bar set, earning him a third place finish. Cal has looked steady this year as they continue making incremental improvements meet after meet. In order to really make the leap JT Okada will have to solve this team’s pommel horse issue, where they struggled again. Their 61.950 has now pulled them down to No. 14 in the country on the event.
Arizona State has now gone 390+ in three straight meets. They have been led by none other than Kiwan Watts who took second place in the all-around (82.550). Watts does have some company in Jordan Williams who finished in seventh with a 79.450. That included a huge second place vault (14.750). The pair of Sun Devils are blazing a path for their quickly-improving team.
Washington rounded out the field in fourth place, but posted a season-high team score at 376.800. Nathan Tsuji posted a sixth place finish (79.900) including a second place showing on floor (14.600). Similar to Cal, if the Huskies can figure out pommel horse, they will easily jump the 380 mark. They posted a lackluster 56.350 this past weekend. — Ben Cooperman
Check out full results here.
Ohio State at Michigan
The Buckeyes traveled up north this week to face the Wolverines and got their first taste of conference competition. A meet that was close after two events turned into an 11-point blowout with Michigan coming out on top.
Ohio State had the exact pommel horse rotation they needed to start off the competition. Alec Yoder led the charge with a meet-high 14.900 en route to a huge 68.100. All five counting scores were in the 13+ range. Unfortunately, it all started to unravel from here for the Buckeyes.
Overall, it was a sloppy competition for Ohio State after pommel horse. Multiple scores in the 11’s and 12’s popped up on the score sheet. This trend has continued for three meets now, and is surprising given some of the talent on their roster.
There were some bright spots for the scarlet and gray, despite dropping to 0-1 within the Big Ten. Highly-touted recruit out of Canada, Jesse Tyndall, showed a spark on p-bars. The freshman posted a 13.900, good enough for a fourth place finish. Sean Neighbarger took home a pair of second place finishes as well (FX – 14.300, VT – 14.700). Ohio State did break the 400 barrier for the first time in 2019.
This meet was really about the reemergence of Michigan as a top team in the Big Ten. On a day that Cameron Bock was battling illness, his teammate Emyre Cole (B1G Gymnast of the Week) stepped up in a big way. The Las Vegas native had an outstanding competition, tallying an 84.100 all-around score. Cole also reeled in two first place event finishes (FX – 14.600 and VT – 14.750). The emergence of Cole as an all-around threat could be what really tips the scale in Michigan’s favor down the road.
Michigan won five of six events in the blowout and the help did not come from just upperclassmen. Freshman Kevin Penev stepped up in a big way after a shaky start to his NCAA career. Penev posted a 14.300 on floor to tie for second place. His 15.8 start value puts him just one-tenth behind reigning NCAA champ Yul Moldauer. Penev adds serious difficulty to an already scary floor lineup.
The Wolverines proved themselves as the frontrunners in the Big Ten after this weekend. Despite getting some favorable judging (take a look at rings to see for yourself), Michigan is a really talented team that can execute. Our previous thoughts have been confirmed: Michigan is back. — Ben Cooperman
Check out full results here.
Oklahoma and Illinois @ Nebraska
No. 1 Oklahoma, to no one’s surprise, sailed to victory over Nebraska and Illinois in Lincoln last Saturday. Far more dramatic, however, was the battle for second place, which was won by the No. 7 Huskers.
Nebraska’s 401.25 was good enough to beat Big Ten rival Illinois, who finished with a 399.15 after a number of uncharacteristic mistakes. Nebraska didn’t just improve markedly on their performance against Penn State the prior week; they also demonstrated an ability to show up when it matters most: a Big Ten regular season championship matchup.
The No. 6 Illini struggled particularly on high bar — their 62.8 was a season-low by over a point, and it was more than two points behind Nebraska’s score on the event. Their horse score was also their lowest of the season by over a point, but it was surprisingly on par with the horse scores of Nebraska and Oklahoma.
Nebraska looked comfortable at home and stayed composed throughout the meet. Anton Stephenson had another solid day — save for p-bars — and claimed individual event titles on high bar (in a tie) and in the all-around.
Oklahoma looked sturdy throughout the meet. Their horse and high bar scores were low for them, though, and not all of that can be traced back to judging — OU did look weaker than usual on those two. Still, they earned individual titles on floor, vault, p-bars and high bar: Yul Moldauer won floor and p-bars, Tanner Justus won vault and Genki Suzuki tied for the high bar crown.
Illinois, despite the loss, had their highlights too. Michael Paradise planted one of the most clutch sets of this season to save his team’s horse lineup with a 14.95, which was the meet’s top score by 1.4. Alex Diab’s ring dominance remained indubitable as well; he won the event with a 14.65.
But the big story is the loss, as we know. This was a meet many had hoped the Illini would use to prove they were capable of at least challenging the Sooners, of making it a contest. Instead, they crumbled during a competition that they knew would impact their chances of winning the Big Ten regular season championship. Bad meets happen, but this was especially bad timing. The Illini will have to sit with that bitter result for a little while: They’re off this weekend, the following week is Winter Cup, and they’re off again the weekend after that. Their first meet back, on March 2, is at home against Minnesota and Stanford. It should be one of the regular season’s most intense matchups — if Minnesota can show up and if Stanford can remember how to compete east of the Mississippi. — Alex Wittenberg
Check out full results here.
Minnesota and UIC @ Iowa
Despite a season-best day from the Hawkeyes, Minnesota was able to escape the weekend with an all-important conference road victory thanks to their second-consecutive 406+ team score.
“For some reason, Iowa has always been a tough place for us to compete so this was a very satisfying win for us. It was a tight meet back and forth and the lead changed hands a couple times throughout the afternoon,” Minnesota head coach, Mike Burns, told GopherSports.com. “Winning on the road in the Big Ten is never an easy thing to do so I’m proud of how these guys stuck together and how they managed the problems they ran into through the course of the afternoon and were able to bring home the victory.”
By no means was this a perfect day for the Gophers — they left Iowa City with a pair of sub-65 event scores (PH and HB) signaling plenty of room for growth.
Among the positives was another 82 all-around score for their star, sophomore Shane Wiskus. The Minnesota native racked up four top-three event finishes, including meet-high scores on SR (13.7), PB (14.35) and HB (13.55). Other winning Gophers were freshman Eric Nakamura grabbing his first collegiate title on FX along with seniors Vitali Kan (VT) and Justin Karstadt (PH). That’s a nice combination of youth and experience showing out.
As I mentioned earlier, despite not coming out on top, Iowa had a nice showing in their first home meet. One thing that jumps out about the Hawkeyes is the success they continue to have on high bar in 2019. Iowa now ranks No. 5 in the NCAA on the event and their 66.05 on Saturday was one of the best scores of the weekend. Everyone knows how important HB is, and if the Hawkeyes can keep it up there, that’s a huge advantage for them.
Doing all six events for the third weekend in a row was Bennet Huang who has now racked up three-straight 79+ scores. That’s good enough to have him sitting at No. 16 in the NCAA rankings.
The Flames of UIC took a slight step back, score-wise, from the last time they met with these teams just two weeks ago at the Windy City Invite. Sam Montague led his team with a season-high 69.9 all-around score, good enough for a top-five finish. — Logan Bradley
Check out full results from the tri-meet here.
Navy @ Army
Back in December, coaches of both Army and Navy explained to me that they had February 2 circled on the calendar. The rivalry between these two feels like something you can’t quite fully understand unless you’ve been on one of the two sides. I can tell you one thing from a pure observational standpoint: this head-to-head meet always means a lot to both teams.
This time around, the Navy Midshipmen were able to grab a very, very rare road win in a tight battle with Army.
It truly went right down to the the last event, high bar, for both teams. As you can see, the Mids were able to overcome a slight deficit thanks a 66.9 on the event (the seventh-highest score across the NCAA on HB in 2019). Talk about stepping up, freshman Cash Buske was the eventual event winner, scoring a 13.6. To come up big in such a pressure-packed scenario says a lot about the first year gymnast.
All-in-all, there was no single star for Navy on Saturday. In fact, seven different Mids recorded at least one top-three finish. To have that type of depth speaks to the job that Kip Simons has done in recruiting and building this team.
I know it surely isn’t an adequate consolation prize, but the Army Black Knights were able to secure their highest team score of 2019 by over five points. In fact, this was Army’s highest score dating all the way back to February 4, 2017.
A few Knights chipped in on the effort, including Cole Casanova whose 80.9 was the top all-around score on the day. The senior also took home titles on VT and PB. Others securing titles were Matt Davis (FX), Matthew Martin (PH) and Taka Giese (SR). — Logan Bradley
Check out full results here.
Temple @ William & Mary
No. 15 William & Mary beat No. 20 Temple 388.5-342.65 on Saturday.
William & Mary swept the event titles and kept close to 390, a mark they surpassed last weekend in their loss to Navy. Earning individual event titles were Cutter Fugett on floor and p-bars, Jacopo Gliozzi on pommels, David Watkins on rings, Jack Hasenkopf on vault and David Allen on high bar.
William & Mary is off until Feb. 23 when they face Army on the road.
Temple was weighed down most by their scores in the low-50s on pommels and high bar. Nicolino Dibattista, the meet’s only all around competitor, placed second on floor and finished with a 72.3 in the all-around.
Temple will get another crack at it on Feb. 24 when they face William & Mary and Springfield.