We’re off and running with the 2019 #NCAAMGym campaign and so far, it’s a great one. This weekend featured a massive 418.55 from Oklahoma and a plethora of other highly-contested meets.
Before we get to the individual recaps, here’s One Thing We Learned from the week.
The NCAA Field Is Deep
During the 2018 season, it felt like there was a very obvious drop-off in talent once you got outside of the top eight or ten teams. This season, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Two teams that this has a lot to do with is Cal and Army. Both seem to have stepped their game up a lot in 2019 thanks to an influx of young, legitimate talent. Still, it’s not just those two. Plenty of other teams outside of the top-eight seem determined to make a statement. This is only good news for gymnastics fans as it should only make the fight for those twelve NCAA spots more interesting.
Another point that stems from this argument that the field feels deeper is that this year’s freshman class is a great one. It feels as though each team is trotting our one or two freshman who are already significantly important to their squad’s success. Props to you, class of 2019.
Air Force/Arizona State @ Oklahoma
The winners of the last four NCAA championships kicked off their home opener in true Oklahoma fashion, notching the top score in the country while besting Stanford’s previous mark by a healthy seven points.
OU started on the floor exercise where they put up monster numbers. Vitaliy Guimaraes (14.450), Gage Dyer (14.350) and Tanner Justus (14.300) took home the top three scores in the meet. They combined for a 43.100, a number that would have put them in second place on floor at the 2018 World Championships. This was of course without the reigning NCAA floor champion, Yul Moldauer.
Speaking of Moldauer, he only competed one event in this one, posting a 15.100 on rings to take the title. It says something that Oklahoma is able do all of this without their MVP on five events. Regardless, the Sooners made splashes on vault (73.000), rings (71.200) and high bar (68.450), as well as the aforementioned floor exercise (71.100).
Pommel horse is shaping up to be a slight weakness for Oklahoma. Genki Suzuki (NCAA Gymnast of the Week) won the title with a 13.700, a score that’s a far cry from some of the other numbers this team is flashing. The 66.350 from Saturday could be misleading given the absence of Moldauer.
Air Force improved upon last week’s performance by over 12 points to take second place in Norman. A tweet from Mark Williams tells us that the Falcons hit an impressive 35 of 36 routines.
It is even more astounding that their performance came this early in the season. Contributions came from all over the roster.
The big story for Air Force so far this season is what they have gotten from Lukas Texeira on high bar. Texeira earned a share of the title again this week with his 14.100. The senior has already made me look silly for leaving his name off the list of high bar contenders.
Arizona State finished in third place, just shy of their season-high tally. Kiwan Watts (GymACT Gymnast of the Week)led the way for the Sun Devils with a huge 82.250 all-around score. Watts also tied for second place on parallel bars with a 13.850. Jordan Williams chipped in with a nice high bar performance taking fourth place (13.800). Arizona State is really starting to make some waves this season. — Ben Cooperman
See full results here.
The Stanford Open
It wasn’t quite the 411 from week two, but the Stanford Cardinal was still able to come out of this weekend with a comfortable 10+ point victory at the Stanford Open.
Stanford has always been known as a great FX/VT team, but they might be taking it a step further this season. At the moment, it looks like they may be the only team capable of staying with OU on those two events.
Leading the charge for the Cardinal this week was Bryan Perla taking home the FX title, followed by his teammate, Bailey Perez. Perla wasn’t a big name coming out of the J.O. program, but certainly many are taking notice of him now.
As for VT, it was freshman Brody Malone taking the title, followed closely (just .05) by Connor Lewis. The other Stanford event winners were Grant Breckenridge on PB and Thomas Lee on SR (tie).
If there’s one event Stanford will have to figure out, it’s PH. For the second week in a row they failed to reach 65 as a team or record a single score higher than 13.65.
Cal, the runner-up, has to have plenty to like about their 3.4-point increase in scoring from week one. It is confirmed: the Golden Bears have a star-in-the-making with freshman Darren Wong(NCAA Rookie of the Week). Against a highly-competitive field, Wong took the all-around title (81.0) by over a point. He also finished on top of the PH podium. The sample size is small, but Wong should be vying for all-around All-America honors when NCAA’s roll around.
See full results here.
Windy City Invite
On Saturday night in Chicago the Fighting Illini won the Windy City Invitational for the fifth-straight year, persevering through the early-season turbulence that dogged their rivals.
The No. 4 Illini scored a 403.15 to come out ahead of Michigan and Minnesota, who rounded out the top three. Illinois also earned four individual event titles: freshman Clay Stephens (B1G Freshman of the Week) won floor and tied for first on vault, junior Michael Paradise won pommels, and senior Alex Diab won rings.
No. 5 Michigan placed second with a 402.0 to kick off their season. Sophomore Cameron Bock (B1G Gymnast of the Week) won the all-around title, junior Mitchell Brown won parallel bars and Justin Hopgood won high bar. The Wolverines will face rival Minnesota in Minneapolis next weekend in both teams’ first Big Ten regular season championship matchup.
No. 7 Minnesota scored a 399.8, which was good enough for third. Senior Vitali Kan tied for the vault title, and senior Shaun Herzog placed second in the all around. Minnesota, in keeping with tradition, was bedeviled by pommel horse, where their 62.8 changed the tone of their night after a relatively strong start on high bar and floor.
The No. 10 Iowa Hawkeyes placed fourth with a 394.8. The Hawkeyes displayed a fresh energy and looked especially poised on high bar, where they were just narrowly edged out by the Illini for the highest team score of the meet on the event.
No. 17 Washington and No. 18 UIC placed fifth and sixth, respectively. Washington’s Nathan Tsuji tied for seventh on floor. UIC was composed and energetic competing at home, but there was some gloom hanging over the arena — this could have very well been the last Windy City.
The Windy City Invitational is often seen as a window into how the Big Ten season will take shape. On the one hand, this year was no different: Illinois again looks to be the best team in the conference. On the other hand, the meet was without Ohio State and Nebraska, and though there’s always pressure to separate oneself early among conference competitors, the tenor of the regular season will markedly shift next week, when a Big Ten title is at stake. Because this meet had no bearing on the Big Ten regular-season championship, its importance pales in comparison to the regular-season matchups in the coming weeks.
There is the possibility, of course, that the team who wins the regular-season championship will be different from the team who wins the real one. But the point is that the Windy City this year wasn’t the litmus test for the Big Ten standings like it’s often viewed to be. We’ll instead learn a lot more about the nature of each team — under pressure, on the road, against conference foes — in the coming weeks, when a championship is on the line. — Alex Wittenberg
See full results here.
Navy made a statement this weekend, taking home the Navy Open title in their own MacDonough Hall in Annapolis, Maryland. More importantly, they broke the 400-point barrier, a feat they accomplished just four times last year.
Despite being a young team, it has been junior Lucas Beltran who has emerged as the early season MVP for the Midshipmen. Beltran took home first place finishes on two events (FX – 14.100, VT – 14.700) as well as a third place finish (SR – 13.850). Josh Williams built on his debut performance competing three events once again and grabbing a second place finish on rings (14.100).
Navy showed that they can be great on high bar, an event that has not been kind to many teams this year. Their 65.800 was good enough for fifth place in the country this week. Of the five scores that counted, there was only a six tenth spread between the low and the high (12.900-13.500). The ability to avoid a disastrous score was the key for Navy. The Midshipmen took the top five scores on the event and were led by freshman Cash Buske (13.500).
Another interesting note from this one is how Kip Simons spread the workload amongst his team. Not a single gymnast competed on more than three events for Navy. This strategy could pay dividends in the long term, keeping everyone fresh over the long NCAA season.
The battle for second place was a great one as William & Mary prevailed over Springfield by a mere 1.25 points. David Watkins had a tremendous performance on still rings once again, taking the title with a 14.350. If he can stay great on this event, he will have a shot at All-American honors representing the Tribe. Jacopo Gliozzi joined his teammate in earning a Navy Open title with a tie on pommel horse (13.500). Tomas Palma also showed improvement taking a sixth place finish on floor (13.200).
Despite the narrow loss, Springfield had a very encouraging performance. The Pride were able to top their previous performance by 6.4 points. After losing six seniors and 20 routines from last year, the upward trajectory is a great sign for what is to come for this young team. Head Coach Matt Davis said after the competition, “all of these early meets are gaining experience for the freshman and even some of the sophomores…coming in, we have the goal of not worrying about the other teams and if we do the little things right, good stuff will happen…for us it was very encouraging.”
Stephen Lewis had another great performance, taking home the all-around title with a 77.800. Trevor Lamberton also joined him in the all-around grabbing third place with a 74.350 – a 2.15 point improvement from his previous performance.
Lucas Wilcox was not initially in the lineups, but found himself having to go after some injuries during warm-up. Wilcox stepped up big for the Pride, scoring a 12.900 on vault to keep his team on their way to a season high 378.650.
Temple was able to improve on their opening performance by almost 50 points. This was a result of stacking full lineups, something they were not able to do at the West Point Open. It was great to see the Owls fill out a full team and set a new high water mark for their 2019 season. Temple was led by Nicolino Dibattista who took a second place in the all-around with a 75.050. — Ben Cooperman
See full results here.
Penn State @ Army
Despite some big-time struggles on a pair of events, Penn State was still able to pull out a victory out at West Point this weekend.
One quick look at those scores will tell the full tale of how the Nittany Lions’ day went. Following the day’s first four events (FX, PH, SR and VT), Penn State was on pace for a white-hot 411.35.
Then PB and HB happened. PSU was forced to count scores of 10.25 on PB along with an 11.0 and 11.45 on HB. I don’t need to explain why this is not good in a five-up-five-count scenario.
Still, team scores of 69.6 on FX and 68.8 on SR should instill some confidence. Sam Zakutney was the team leader, and event title winner, on FX with a 14.4 while the Nittany Lions swept the top-three spots on SR with Greg Tamargo, Isaac Hammett and Parker Clayton all going 13.85+.
Though Army lost, they’ve got to be proud of how they competed. The Black Knights were able to take two team event titles (PB and HB). Breakout performance of the week undoubtedly goes to freshman Matt Davis. Davis earned his first-ever all-around title with an 80.15 that included top-three finishes on FX, PB and HB. He and Cole Casanova (PB event winner) form a high-quality one-two punch for Army. — Logan Bradley
See full results here.