2019 NCAA Championships Recap: Stanford Completes The Upset
Maybe we didn’t really know who Stanford was.
Tucked away with the Cal Golden Bears on the left coast, it’s easy to dismiss certain successes:
“The judging is just high out there.”
“Nobody really gets to see their meets.”
“They’re a good team, but can they really beat Oklahoma?”
I’m paraphrasing, of course, but I figure these were all things said at one point or another throughout this season. It was a team comprised of four major senior contributors — Grant Breckenridge, Jacob Barrus, Ryan Sheppard and Josiah Eng — along with a host of talented, yet relatively unknown youngsters like Ian Gunther, Andrew Bitner, Blake Sun and Bryan Perla.
Am I forgetting anyone?
Oh, yes, some Georgian named Brody Malone.
THAT’S the group that proved those multiple narratives wrong. Once the chalk settled on Saturday night in Champaign, that was the group of Stanford Cardinal gymnasts that toppled the most impressive NCAA men’s gymnastics dynasty of all-time.
How’d it happen? A slow burn.
Thom Glielmi’s team (to put it bluntly) disappointed in the qualifying session on Friday. Finishing second to the Michigan Wolverines, Stanford’s 407.588 was their lowest score since January 19 at the Stanford Open. Then again, all that matters from that day is a top-three finish; but not winning their session seemed to seriously dampen hopes that they’d be able to make a run at Oklahoma, similar to what they were able to do at MPSF Championships.
Saturday came around with the Cardinal starting on vault. A nice rotation was capped by a stuck 2.5 from Bryan Perla. Parallel bars was next where they ran into their first hiccup. A missed hand on a stutz from senior standout Grant Breckenridge allowed the first doubts of the night to creep in. After all, the Sooners had just finished up a pommel horse rotation that would be the best of the night.
There was only one thing we didn’t realize at the time — the Brody Malone Show had gotten underway on parallel bars. From that event, Stanford moved to high bar where the freshman secured his first NCAA title of the evening, finishing as one of three Stanford gymnasts in the top-eight (All-American status), the other two being David Jessen and Breckenridge.
Still, was Stanford going to complete the upset of mighty Oklahoma? A team that had ripped off a jaw-dropping 121-straight victories? I had my doubts, and so did the numbers.
Then to floor…three more All-Americans and another No. 1 event finish. Oh, and how could I forget, another stone-cold, no problem performance from Malone, the budding superstar, who picked up another NCAA title. These are things we would learn later, of course, but it was obvious the momentum that Glielmi’s team was gaining.
At this point it seemed like pommel horse was all the stood in the way of Stanford having a legitimate shot at gunning for the Sooners. It was a legitimate concern, too. PH had arguably been the Cardinal’s worst event all year as they could never seem to find a rotation where they knocked things out of the park.
This is where I write about a magnificent pommel horse rotation, right? Nope. They endured a pair of falls. However, guess who didn’t fall? 100 points to you if you guessed Malone. Still, a near last-place event finish and my Oklahoma championship recap, in all honesty, was written and done with.
Then came a Stanford rings rotation that will not be forgotten any time soon. In the hole by four-and-a-half points, Stanford ripped off routine after routine, piling up three eventual All-American honors within their first four routines, including last-second replacement, Andrew Bitner.
At this point Oklahoma had been doing their job. Not before a gigantic gasp that nearly shook the State Farm Center. Oklahoma superstar Yul Moldauer, probably the greatest NCAA gymnast of all-time, had fallen off of high bar. Then, mere seconds later, Josiah Eng struggled and struggled his way back into a handstand as the Stanford still rings anchor.
I didn’t think an audible gasp could get louder than the one following Moldauer’s fall…I was very wrong.
Levi Anderson then hit a remarkable high bar team, leaving everybody within the city limits of Champaign wondering whether the score flashed would be greater than the 14.133 needed to extend the streak to 122.
Chaos inside of the Stanford corral ensues. The national championship was secure.
It can’t be overstated, the performance of freshman Brody Malone on the biggest stage in NCAA gymnastics. It seemed as though there was no moment too big for the newly-crowned NCAA All-Around, high bar and floor champion. “You know, I was just trusting my preparation in the gym and just let the gymnastics work itself out, I guess,” said Malone nonchalantly following the meet.
If all it takes is Malone trusting his preparation inside of the practice gym, I’m going to tell the rest of the NCAA gymnastics community to watch out during the next three years. The latest superstar is here to stay.
STANFORD ALL-AMERICANS: Brody Malone (AA, FX, SR, PB, HB), Bryan Perla (FX, VT), Grant Breckenridge (AA, HB), Andrew Bitner (SR), Ian Gunther (SR), David Jessen (HB), Jacob Barrus (PB), Blake Sun (PB), Bailey Perez (FX)
Oklahoma’s fabled win streak came to a stunning close in Champaign, delivering the Sooners’ eight-man senior class the first loss of their careers and marking a tectonic shift in the landscape of NCAA men’s gymnastics.
The Sooners’ problems were concentrated mostly at the start and end of the meet. They finished floor, their first event, with a 69.7 and were one of just two teams in the final to score sub-70. Usually an event that helps OU stride past their competition, floor, proved unusually tricky — Yul Moldauer’s uncanny fall on a flair sequence was the chief example. Their 69.7 was almost a point below their season average on the event.
After floor, OU looked to be back to their true selves and appeared well within reach of another championship. They did lack some of the outsize scores that have been fixtures of their best performances, but they nonetheless scored close to, or above, their season averages on pommel horse, rings, vault and parallel bars.
Then high bar happened. Their 66.1 was about three points less than their season average, and that deficit opened the door for Stanford’s ring lineup to steal the trophy. The Oklahoma squad’s exuberance after Levi Anderson’s clutch high bar set in the anchor spot soon gave way to disbelief, as a feeling almost half the team had never experienced began to set in.
Let’s be perfectly clear: OU’s dominance over NCAA gymnastics was unprecedented and has done so much good for the sport. That OU’s senior class was able to go out and capture victory at every single meet until their very last is a testament to the gymnastics prowess of the program. This loss doesn’t take that away.
It would also be folly not to acknowledge the immense role Moldauer, the 2019 Nissen Emery Award winner and MVP, has played in honing such dominance. Moldauer tied the NCAA record for individual NCAA titles before his senior year even started. Though he wasn’t able to set a new record, his legacy as one of the most consistent competitors on the floor, and as someone whose pride in his sport and school were as overt as his technical mastery, will last for years. Yet through Moldauer, the truth about gymnastics was made plain yet again: even the best aren’t immune to a bad day.
OU still walked away with many individual accolades, and the team earned All-American plaudits on every event except floor.
OKLAHOMA ALL-AMERICANS: Yul Moldauer (AA, PH, SR), Genki Suzuki (AA, PB, HB), Levi Anderson (AA, VT) Brian Schibler (PH), Peter Daggett (SR), Jake Maloley (SR), Vitaliy Guimaraes (VT)
If you have been watching Nebraska over the past few years, you know how drastic their program’s transformation has been. As recently as five years ago they finished as the tenth-best team in the country. It took until 2017 for them to finally make their way back into the NCAA team final as a top-six team. Now, this past weekend, their program reached new heights as they finished as the third best team in the entire nation. This was the highest team finish by a Nebraska Cornhusker team dating back to 1999.
From an outsider’s perspective it’s tough to pinpoint the exact reason for Nebraska’s rise to prominence, but there is no doubt that Anton Stephenson has played a paramount role. The senior has been fantastic throughout his entire career and did more of the same in his final performance. Stephenson posted an 81.631 in the all-around which put him seventh place (All-American). He also, of course, garnered All-American status on vault with his fourth place 14.866.
Jake Bonnay was back in the lineups after battling injuries all year. His return was noticed as he placed in the top eight on floor with his 14.40 routine. His teammate, Josh Martin, also snuck in as an All-American on pommel horse (13.60).
Griffin Kehler did not earn All-American status but his performance should not go unnoticed. Kehler has been a workhorse for this team the entire season and he showed up Saturday night. He was great on floor where he posted a 14.33. While his high bar was not quite as dominant as it has been all season, he still put up a crucial 13.40.
A pair of freshman earned All-American status for the Cornhuskers: Charlie Giles and Khalil Jackson. Giles has put up a huge yurchenko two-and-a-half (14.60) to finish behind his legendary teammate, the aforementioned Stephenson. Jackson has been part of a Nebraska resurgence on high bar and showed how talented he is in team finals (13.833).
Even with the departure of Stephenson, Nebraska is here to stay as one of the top teams in the country. Their best performance since 1999 is a testament to the culture they have created over the past few years. A lot went on this weekend but it should not be overlooked: the Cornhuskers are back.
NEBRASKA ALL-AMERICANS: Anton Stephenson (AA, VT), Jake Bonnay (FX), Josh Martin (PH), Charlie Giles (VT), Khalil Jackson (HB)
The Michigan Wolverines capped off a successful season with a somewhat disappointing fourth-place finish at the NCAA Championships, falling to OU, Stanford and Big Ten rival Nebraska.
The Wolverines came close to capturing a Big Ten title a couple of weeks ago, and many had mused that the Michigan squad was due for a big postseason upset. After day one of NCAAs, that seemed well within their wheelhouse, too, as the team passed Stanford to finish first in the afternoon session.
But troubles on horse and high bar did Michigan in on day two. Their 63.8 on horse was the lowest score of the meet on the event by more than two points, and their 62.8 on high bar was a season-low for the team by more than a point.
Michigan flourished on other events, however. They posted the top score of the meet on vault with a huge 73.3 that was bookended by a dreamlike Tsuk double pike from Anthony McCallum, who easily won the event. Michigan also had the second-highest team score on floor, led by Jacob Moore and Emyre Cole, who both received All-American citations with third and eighth place finishes.
Marty Stretch earned an All-American on rings with a seventh-place finish, and Cameron Bock earned an All-American in the all around with a fourth-place finish.
MICHIGAN ALL-AMERICANS: Cameron Bock (AA), Jacob Moore (FX), Emyre Cole (FX), Marty Strech (SR), Anthony McCallum (VT)
There’s no way of sugar-coating it, Saturday night was a major disappointment for Illinois. Coming in as the second-highest scoring team across both preliminary sessions, the Illini were only able to muster a 405.35, leaving them with a fifth-place finish — their worst NCAA placing since 2015.
The tone was unfortunately set right from the start as mistakes were made on parallel bars which were then compounded with an uncharacteristically awful high bar rotation. It’s now the second year in a row where the Illini have been snake-bitten on the event.
Things did, however, pick up late for the Illini with nice rotations on floor and pommel horse, though the damage was done a long time ago. If you want a glass half-full way of looking at the things, only eight routines will be lost from this year’s team, though four of those come from Alex Diab who will go down as one of the greatest Illinois gymnasts in history after securing his second consecutive NCAA still rings title.
ILLINOIS ALL-AMERICANS: Alex Diab (FX, SR), Hamish Carter (HB), Michael Paradise (PH), Johnny Jacobson (FX), Sebastian Quiana (FX)
The wheels fell off for the Penn State Nittany Lions as they finished in sixth place in the NCAA for the second consecutive season. Their performance over the two days was representative of their entire season: up-and-down. The good news for PSU: one of those “ups” resulted in a Big Ten Championship. That does well to take away some of the sting from their disappointing NCAA Championships.
The biggest positive from their weekend was a third place finish on rings from Noah Roberson. The redshirt senior had a strong season that culminated in All-American honors, an idea that seemed impossible not too long ago. Cut as a freshman, Roberson bounced back in a way most can only dream of.
Stephen Nedoroscik came up just shy of his third consecutive pommel horse title. The junior finished second behind Ohio State’s Alec Yoder (14.633) as his 14.40 was not enough.
Penn State will lose quite a few seniors and will have their work cut out for them in order to remain a top team in 2020. Their season was not without victories, but the “downs” will provide motivation as Sam Zakutney heads into his senior season.
PENN STATE ALL-AMERICANS: Stephen Nedoroscik (PH), Noah Roberson (SR)