The CGA 2019 #NCAAMGym Season Preview
Every year, May through December flies by. 2018 was certainly no exception, as it seems like ten minutes ago we were watching the Oklahoma Sooners celebrate their fourth-straight NCAA title inside of the UIC Pavilion. All that's happened since that time? A U.S. Championships that saw a current or former NCAA gymnast win every single event, along with the all-around title (congrats to former Michigan Wolverine, Sam Mikulak). What followed was a World Championships where an all-NCAA-led team captured fourth-place while Mikulak earned his first individual World medal, a bronze on high bar:
Unfortunately, this offseason hasn't been filled completely with positive news. Just a few months back, the UIC Flames were notified that both their men and women's programs were being discontinued. While undoubtedly awful news, it has been followed by an outstanding show of support from the entire gymnastics community:
As we make our way through the 2019 NCAA season, we must keep in mind our brothers and sisters at UIC and help them in any way possible. Obviously, we can ill afford to lose such a valuable program.
Now let's get to the good stuff -- the previewing of every single team that hopes to raise a trophy and earn some jewelry by the end of April. With the Sooners returning their star, Yul Moldauer, they'll be primed to tie the NCAA record (set by OU head coach Mark Williams' former coach, Francis Allen of Nebraska) of five-consecutive titles. At the same time, teams like Stanford (with a loaded batch of freshman), Illinois, Minnesota and others will be looking to break the streak.
Something to take note of, and a significant change within the NCAA, is the Big Ten conference's addition of a B1G regular season champion. That's right -- each team in the Big Ten will compete against each other exactly one time in either a dual or tri-meet. Whoever finishes with the best record at the end of conference competition is the B1G regular season champion.
Now we'll take an inside-look at each team that will take the competition floor this season and where they could finish up. The following rankings are based on an average ranking created by five of the following people:
Logan Bradley (former Illinois gymnast)
Ben Cooperman (former Penn State gymnast)
Alex Wittenberg (former Minnesota gymnast)
Andrew Misiolek (former Stanford gymnast)
Jessica Frankl (CGA gymnastics expert/photographer)
Following the team-by-team breakdown we'll look at five competitors on each event who could be contenders to win an NCAA title.
Key Losses: Hunter Justus, Reese Rickett
Key Additions: Vitaliy Guimaraes, Spencer Goodell
2018 Finish: NCAA - 1st, MPSF - 1st
When the Sooners open up their season on January 12 at the Rocky Mountain Open, they won't look all that different from the team that secured a fourth-straight NCAA title in 2018. For anyone in the NCAA with aspirations of dethroning the champs, that spells bad news.
"You know, we're only losing four scores from NCAA's last year and Matt Wenske is coming back to full health, which will be big," explained head coach Mark Williams.
Yep -- four scores. Not to mention the return of Wenske, who when healthy is one of the top FX and VT competitors in the country. "In terms of available guys we're further along than maybe we were in the last two years."
One of those available guys is Yul Moldauer and in reality, everything for this Oklahoma team starts and stops with the senior who has put together one of the greatest NCAA careers the sport has ever seen. Fresh off of helping Team USA secure a fourth-place team finish at World Championships, Moldauer returns to Norman in an attempt to secure his fourth and final championship ring. However, as is the case with any gymnast who competes internationally, the team knows they must cognizant of how much they're using their star.
"There are going to be times where I'd like to use him more, but we're also trying to be really smart about what he's capable of doing. You know, most meets he'll be like 'you know, I'm ready to do everything' and I'm trying to be the smart person as a coach and say, 'yeah, you can't do that every time. We need to allow you to get a break occasionally and trust these other guys to get the job done.'" - Mark Williams
Considering that Williams believes that the Sooners are a deeper team than in years past, trusting others to get the job done shouldn't be so difficult.
We'll know early on just how good Oklahoma is as they open the season at the previously mentioned RMO against top teams like Minnesota, Ohio State and Nebraska.
ROUTINE TO WATCH (according to Williams): "Levi Anderson's doing a pretty big high bar routine. A lot of releases, a lot of risk in those releases, but for this time of the year he's doing it pretty well so I'm kind of excited about that."
SLEEPER GYMNAST (according to Williams): "Probably the most improved guy from last year is [Alexei] Vernyi who was getting back from surgery and really struggled in the early part of the year with the training plan. He did a little bit on FX and VT last year, but I'm starting to see good things on other events. I love to see a kid who's been down a little bit and finds his way back where he's competitive with everybody else in the gym."
Key Losses: Robert Neff
Key Additions: Ian Gunther, Brody Malone, Curran Phillips
2018 Finish: NCAA - 4th, MPSF - 2nd
What do you need to know about Stanford's team in 2018? For starters, they've got the most intriguing freshman class in the country (Ian Gunther, Brody Malone, Curran Phillips, Christopher Osgood, Matthew Szot, Blake Wilson) who should contribute immediately. But maybe more importantly, according to head coach Thom Glielmi, these guys love the sport and enjoy everything that comes along with it.
"This team has got a great culture, they're very motivated, they're on the same page as far as doing what they have to do to make that happen. It's a lot of fun. This is one of the most enjoyable teams to coach that I've ever had. So that says a lot. Just because they're excited about the sport and motivated and coach-able." - Thom Glielmi
As any gymnast who's had to grind through a full off-season/season knows, you've got to enjoy what you're doing.
Working against Stanford will be the departure of two-time NCAA high bar champion, Robert Neff. Redshirt senior Jacob Barrus (mentioned below) and senior Grant Breckenridge will be heavily relied upon to anchor that event in Neff's absence.
Don't forget about Josiah Eng either. The senior ringman missed all of 2018 after suffering a torn ACL. He should be a serious boon for the Cardinal who ended last season as the sixth-ranked team in the NCAA on SR. Sophomore Thomas Lee and Eng should pack a nice 1-2 punch at the back-end of Stanford's lineup.
"I think the freshmen are starting to see how competitive it's going to be to make the lineup," explained Glielmi. "That lends itself to better training, you know, and reminding them that they have to earn their spot; that their mom's not going to pay for their entry fee."
ROUTINE TO WATCH (according to Glielmi): "Jacob Barrus on high bar. He'll probably do five releases. It's just a big looking routine and he's a big guy."
SLEEPER GYMNAST (according to Glielmi): "[Brody] Malone and [Ian] Gunther. They have their individual strengths and, you know, how it's going right now there's definitely some work that needs to be done, but they're very coachable so I think if things progress the way they are, they'll transition into the collegiate and senior ranks pretty well."
Key Losses: Bobby Baker, Chandler Eggleston, Brandon Ngai, Tyson Bull
Key Additions: Michael Fletcher, Clay Stephens, Hamish Carter
2018 Finish: NCAA - 3rd, B1G - 1st
"We don't do anything different," said Illinois' head coach Justin Spring when asked how the off-season has gone following the loss of a major crop of gymnasts. "We've got a system and we just run it."
Nobody is going to argue the legitimacy of that system following a season where the Illini won their first B1G team title since 2012. At the same time, it's fair to question how they'll fill holes like the four empty spots on PH previously occupied by Brandon Ngai, Bobby Baker, Harry McLellan and Tyson Bull.
"We're a little behind," said Spring. "It's going to take freshmen a lot longer to get fully ready than your veteran, third-year or fourth-year guys. It's been a little bit of a ego check. We still think, myself included, that we're a strong team this year."
Make no mistake, this still is a strong team, and they'll be expecting a lot from freshman Michael Fletcher and sophomore Clay Stephens (although we did not see him in action last year as he was recovering from an injury). Fletcher is a former U.S. Junior National team member while Stephens is a member of the Australian Senior national team. On top of those two, the Illini made a late addition in Hamish Carter, a member of the British Senior National team.
Something the Illini (and every other B1G team) will be keeping an eye on the season is the brand-new implementation of a B1G Regular Season Championship. That's right -- along with crowning a B1G champion as usual at the championship meet in March, one will also be crowned based off of their regular season record vs. conference opponents.
"Any time we're injured and banged up we look back and it's like, 'ah, whatever, no meet really matters until postseason. It's about peaking for postseason, peaking for April.' Now, postseason is sprinkled throughout the year and meets have a tremendous amount more weight to them if they're a B1G conference meet. So I'm really excited, I think the energy is going to be intense, you're going to feel that heartbeat a lot more intensely at these meets." - Justin Spring
Speaking of feeling that heartbeat -- the Illini will be this year's host of NCAA Championships on April 19-20. When asked about how the guys are feeling in regards to competing for the big one in Champaign Spring said they're "amped" to defend their house.
ROUTINE TO WATCH (according to Spring): "Clay [Stephens] brings some unique stuff. Clay's p-bars has a lot of those front-uprise elements that you normally see from the best guys in the world. That's going to be a unique routine. He's got front-uprise diamidov/front-uprise stutz already in the set. Those are skills you don't see very often."
SLEEPER TO WATCH (according to Spring): "Jordan Kovach. He's just looking really good. For a guy who came in mid-year (last year) and did maybe one or two events for us at any given time, I think he's a guy who could possibly be in lineup on five events and doing the all-around, so it's exciting."
Key Losses: Tristan Duran, Joel Gagnon, Yaroslav Pochinka, Jalon Stephens, Alex Wittenberg
Key Additions: David Pochinka
2018 Finish: NCAA - 2nd, B1G - 5th
There's no doubt about it, the Gophers' roster looks a whole lot different than it did last year at this time. Ten have graduated (most of whom played large roles) and nine have arrived.
One thing, however, remains the same. This is a program coming off of a surprising runner-up finish at NCAA's. Well, maybe it was surprising to everybody but them. "It's hard not to think about Minnesota gymnastics right now with what these guys did last year," said head coach Mike Burns.
"Everybody knows we're not quite the same team. But, with that said, any program that's going to be sustainable has to have a common thread through it. We want to maintain the same kind of mentality and standards which turn into a culture." - Mike Burns
The major holdovers from last season who will attempt to maintain that mentality are gymnasts like Shane Wiskus (NCAA All-Around runner-up finish in 2018) , Shaun Herzog (SR All-American), Justin Karstadt (PH & PB All-American) and Vitali Kan (VT All-American).
As mentioned before, there will be plenty of fresh Gopher faces in 2019. Plenty will be contributors, though the one most likely to make a high-end impact is David Pochinka (younger brother of the former Gopher, Yaroslav). Hailing from WOGA Gymnastics, Pochinka has a clean look to his gymnastics that should allow him to contend for All-American status right away on an event like PB.
While this team has their eyes set on the two opportunities to take home a B1G title (regular season and postseason), Burns says they first need to focus on the process goals like health and overall preparation. "These guys who are seniors want to go out on a high note, to put a ring on their finger."
Despite the mass exodus, nobody should doubt the Gophers given last season's finish.
SLEEPER TO WATCH (according to Burns): "Colton Dee. He's got the most amazing work ethic. He's training his tail off and starting to hit higher level routines. He's looking like a guy who could come out of nowhere and make a difference."
ROUTINE TO WATCH (according to Burns): "Our whole floor lineup. On top of that, I'd go with either Kan on pommel horse or Wiskus on high bar."
Key Losses: Dmitri Belanovski, Tristian Perez-Rivera
Key Additions: Kevin Penev
2018 Finish: NCAA - 8th, B1G - 2nd
2018 was a move in the right direction for the Michigan Wolverines. They were able to capture a surprise runner-up finish at B1G Championships and identified a couple of cornerstone pieces for their future -- those being sophomores Cameron Bock and Jacob Moore. And, according to assistant coach Geoff Corrigan, they're bringing a lot more to the table than just their gymnastics.
"I think any time you have somebody like Cameron or Jake -- those guys have won their entire lives -- since they were very young. They hate losing. I think that the culture is changing a little bit in a sense of the expectations are just higher. I think not making the Super Six last year was a pretty big surprise." - Geoff Corrigan.
It's not as if there's no star power after Bock and Moore -- quite the opposite, actually. You've got a trio of All-Americans in Anthony McCallum (2x NCAA VT champion), Emyre Cole and Ryan Dunning to go along with freshman Kevin Penev (younger brother of former Stanford great, Eddie) who should have an immediate impact.
Corrigan compared this year's team to the Michigan squad from 2010 in terms of intelligence levels. Why could that be a nice comparison? Well, the Wolverines ended up as NCAA champions that year. It's very possible that Michigan finishes even higher than where they're pegged in the coaches poll (No. 5).
SLEEPER TO WATCH (according to Corrigan): "Jonathan Liu. He’s just good at everything. He’ll probably end up by the end of his career on four or five events. He learns quick, looks clean and swings great horse. He could step up and surprise himself."
ROUTINE TO WATCH (according to Corrigan): "Cameron Bock on FX. He’s pretty incredible. I think he’s starting at a 5.8 or 5.9 Has a (back-twisting) 3.5 connection pass in there, so he will be very good."
Key Losses:Colin Coates
Key Additions: Brady Yamamoto
2018 Finish: NCAA - 6th, B1G - 3rd
For where they finished last year and how few routines they've lost heading into 2019, Penn State might be the team receiving the least amount of deserved respect.
Head coach Randy Jepson will be the first to tell you: there's no particular superstar that the Nittany Lions possess. Of course, you can consider Stephen Nedoroscik (back-to-back PH NCAA champion) a superstar in his own right, but there really isn't one gymnast that puts them way over the top on multiple events.
"The thing about our team is we don’t have anybody that would go 'oh, wow that guy is amazing!” We’ve been able to build guys who are unheralded. Matt Felleman was a great example, he was a big. We've got a team of those." - Randy Jepson
Let's not forget about Sam Zakutney, however. The All-American and Canadian Senior National team member (he competed at the recent World Championships) should continue putting up a ton of good scores for PSU in 2019.
One thing this team won't be short on is leadership. The upperclassmen-heavy team is headed by three great leaders in Chris Sands, Michael Burns and Wyatt Tyndall.
If you're going to go with a sleeper pick in 2019, Penn State might be the team.
ROUTINE TO WATCH (according to Jepson): "Stephen Nedoroscik on PH is world class. His execution is outstanding and he’s upped his game and increased his start value a little bit. He’s shown that when the pressure is on he can step up."
SLEEPER TO WATCH: Favian Valdez missed all of 2018 with an injury but had a major impact as a freshman. He should slot right back into multiple lineups.
Key Losses: Kyle King, Antonio Castro, Chris Stephenson
Key Additions: Khalil Jackson, Dillan King
2018 Finish: NCAA - 5th, B1G - 6th
It really felt like 2018 was somewhat of a "prove it" year for Nebraska. Sure, the return to NCAA team finals was a feel good story in 2017, but were they able to repeat that success? Well, following a fifth place finish in Chicago, it was obvious that they were up to the challenge.
Now the challenge is overcoming a pretty significant departure of talent. Guys like Chris Stephenson and Kyle King are gone, and they'll be replaced by talented freshmen like Khalil Jackson and Dillan King.
"It's been a concern of mine, yes," said head coach Chuck Chmelka on the idea of replacing crucial gymnasts from last year's team. "Fortunately, the freshmen have bought in. They're doing everything we ask."
On the other side of the coin, a few returnees who will play key roles are Anton Stephenson, Jake Bonnay and Griffin Kehler. Kehler really came on strong as a freshman and consistently produced on FX, PB and HB. All three of the previously mentioned Huskers will be a part of what should be one of the best FX lineups in the NCAA.
If all goes according to plan, Chmelka says the team has their sights set on winning a B1G championship and finishing in the top-three at NCAA's -- something the Huskers have yet to accomplish this century. Given the trajectory of this program in recent time, neither of those results are outside the realm of possibilities.
ROUTINE TO WATCH (according to Chmelka): "Heath Anderson on rings could be an All-American. We haven't had that in recent years. He's improved a lot and will probably be our top (rings) scorer."
SLEEPER TO WATCH (according to Chmelka): "Jonathan Scripnick competed on and off for us on one or two events last year. He could be a four event guy and is doing really well."
Key Losses: Sean Melton, Seth Delbridge
Key Additions: Angel Leon, Jesse Tyndall
2018 Finish: NCAA - 7th, B1G - 4th
To put it simply, 2018 did not go as planned for the Ohio State Buckeyes -- and head coach Rustam Sharipov was quick to point that out. After winning back-to-back B1G titles in 2016 and 2017, Ohio State struggled to find back-end depth that they were so previously accustomed to. Now, in 2019, that back-end depth could be coming into shape.
Yes, they'll be living in the post-Sean Melton era, but the Buckeyes are still led by one of the best all-around gymnasts in the NCAA, Alec Yoder. Yoder is fresh off of competing at the World Championships where he helped Team U.S.A. secure a fourth-place finish.
We're all aware of the things Yoder can do, but what about some of the other gymnasts who will be relied upon heavily by Sharipov? One to keep an eye out for is sophomore Max Andryushchenko. With one year of experience now under his belt, the Lakeshore Academy product should be a key cog in multiple lineups, including SR where Sharipov mentioned he will be premiering a newer set.
If the Buckeyes are able to see some of their key freshmen like Angel Leon and Jesse Tyndall (younger brother of Wyatt (PSU) and Mitch (NEB)) mature quickly, they should have a great chance at rebounding in 2019. "The goal is to get back where we belong," said Sharipov. "I believe the team belongs in the top-three (at NCAA's) and to be able to fight for a B1G title. That's the ultimate goal. As long as they do their job, I believe it can happen."
SLEEPER TO WATCH (according to Sharipov): "Alec Yoder (although it's hard to fully consider him a "sleeper") is highly motivated and is upgrading routines."
ROUTINE TO WATCH (according to Sharipov): "Angel Leon, our freshman, is doing some high-flying releases on high bar."
Key Losses:Austin Hodges, Dylan Ellsworth
Key Additions: Evan Davis, Stewart Brown
2018 Finish: NCAA - 9th, B1G - 7th
The Iowa Hawkeyes enter the 2019 season after losing two of their top scorers, and leaders, in Austin Hodges and Dylan Ellsworth. It's never easy to move on from that, but head coach J.D. Reive has been able to bring in a couple of talents that Hawkeye fans should be excited about.
Evan Davis will come in as a freshmen and contribute from the jump. The Houston, TX native put together an illustrious J.O. career, capped off by winning the Mas Watanabe Award -- given to the nation's most outstanding level 10 gymnast.
Outside of Davis, Iowa really has a great handful of gymnasts who will be counted upon this season. Addison Chung and Bennet Huang highlight a sophomore class that should only get better with a year of experience. In addition, Rogelio Vazquez and Jake Brodarzon were tabbed as B1G Gymnasts to Watch by the conference.
"Our theme this year is consistency," said Reive. "We've worked really hard to get stuff in line and hit the majority of the time. For me, it's can we get out there and have consistency with how we're putting things together on the floor."
The Hawkeyes will have plenty of time to get comfortable within their own home in 2019 as they won't have a road meet (outside of Winter Cup) from January 27 until March 9.
ROUTINE TO WATCH (according to Reive): "Rogelio Vazquez has a kick ass high bar routine this year and could contend to win conference. That one has been exciting. [Mitch] Mandozzi is in there as well."
SLEEPER TO WATCH (according to Reive): "I'm expecting a lot out of Evan Davis. He'll contribute quite a bit and he's a baller. I'm anxious to get him into the NCAA bracket."
10. Navy Midshipmen
Key Losses: Noah Beeman, Tanner West
Key Additions: Josh Williams
2018 Finish: NCAA - 11th, ECAC - 1st
Since being announced as head coach of Navy back in September, 2015, Kip Simons has had one goal: build. Naturally, when you build, results will follow (most of the time). In the case of Simons and his Midshipmen squad, those results really have followed. Two ECAC titles in the last three years proves that the base he's built in Annapolis is sturdier than most.
"I think we're in the plus," said Simons on the net loss/gain of talent from last year's team. "We're right where I'd like to be. We're losing three and bringing in eight and that's a good sign that we've got the depth we've been searching for."
Losing Noah Beeman, a leader that Simons raved about last season, will be tough on Navy, but they'll be gaining a supremely talented gymnast in Josh Williams. "A beast," said Simons on the freshman. "He's one of the guys who came in and never really struggled with adjusting to our system."
While Williams is the standout of the group, Simons mentioned other newcomers like Nehemiah Baker and Cash Buske as others who will step into immediate roles.
In terms of scheduling, it shouldn't surprise you as to which meet the Mids have circled on their calendar. A road date with Army on February 2 will be interesting as Simons knows how difficult it can be to win at their arch-rival. "It's been at least eight years since we've won up there. We treat that meet like a championship in which we're looking to be in peak NCAA performance."
Simons said the team has their eyes set on increasing their start values in 2018. If they're able to do that and execute relatively well, a repeat ECAC performance and top-ten NCAA finish could be in the cards.
ROUTINE TO WATCH (according to Simons): "Lucas Beltran is always a force to be reckoned with on vault and floor. He's a big, super quick and bouncy guy. Look for him on those two."
SLEEPER TO WATCH (according to Simons): "Max Gerber. He was training four to five events for us last year but he struggled getting into lineup. He's a guy that has put his nose to the grindstone in the off-season and that's when development happens. He came back with a different look because last year left a bad taste in his mouth. He should be a strong competitor on PH, PB and HB."
Key Losses: Yordan Aleksandrov
Key Additions: Liam Doherty-Herwitz, Darren Wong
2018 Finish: NCAA - 10th, MPSF - 3rd
Among other things like qualifying into NCAA team finals, head coach J.T. Okada has a simplified goal for his Golden Bears: compete higher level gymnastics.
"Last year we tightened up a bit and went more conservative in order to score as best as possible. This year, the goal is to provide a certain look -- a certain gymnastics." - J.T. Okada
They might have the talent to do just that. Losing Yordan Aleksandrov, one of the best Cal gymnasts in recent memory, will leave a hole, but there are a couple of talented freshmen that Okada is ready to unleash. Liam Doherty-Herwitz, for example, is fresh off competing at the U.S. Championships this summer where he grabbed a fifth-place finish on PB, an event where fresh depth will be needed.
Another freshman, Darren Wong, gives Cal two Canadian Senior National Team members (Aaron Mah being the other). Wong has a dynamic and clean look to his gymnastics, something that Okada might be looking for given Aleksandrov's departure.
If Cal can make some strides on PH this year, look for them to make a decent-sized jump in average team score.
ROUTINE TO WATCH (according to Okada): "Last year we were a day two (of NCAA's) team on every single event but pommel horse; that's where the wheels came off. This year we have the start value [on PH] and expect to be a lot better on that event."
SLEEPER TO WATCH (according to Okada): "Kyle Abe. He's a local freshman from San Jose. He's got some big time skills and if he can get it together, he's very powerful."
Key Losses: Fletcher Braunton, Jonathon Fornoff
Key Additions: Nick Handley,
2018 Finish: NCAA - 12th, MPSF - 4th
Based off the number of #WipeoutWednesday posts on Air Force's Instagram feed, you might start to worry a little about how their off-season has gone. Fear not! Things are looking bright for the Falcons after welcoming in eight new freshmen in the fall.
Jonah Urlaub, Air Force's top overall scorer in 2018, will return for his senior season. Toward the latter part of last season he was a frequent all-arounder scorer for the Falcons -- something that should continue into 2019. Another important senior for Air Force will be Lukas Texeira. Texeira stepped up his game on HB last season and should be a mainstay at the back-end of the Falcons' lineup yet again.
As for head coach Jeff Robinson's main focus and goal for this team, he'll be looking for improved consistency in respect to hitting routines.
ROUTINE TO WATCH: Lukas Texeira on HB. The senior averaged a 13.795 on the event last year, good enough for seventh-best in the NCAA. He's no-doubt an All-American-level competitor on the event.
SLEEPER TO WATCH: Frankie Valentin. A four-event competitor as a freshman, Valentin was strong on SR, notching the program's third-highest score ever on the event with a 13.9. He should continue finding ways to contribute for Air Force and take on an even more prominent role.
Key Losses: Daniel Bronnenberg, Nikita Latman, Riley Ward
Key Additions: Jordan Williams, Kyle Buriss
Twenty. Four. That's the number of freshmen that the Sun Devils will bring in for 2019. Of course, with ASU being a club team, not all of those gymnasts will compete for their primary team, rather, many will compete for their "Maroon Team" who will compete in four meets.
As for those returning, the most important will absolutely be Kiwan Watts. Watts competed admirably for the Sun Devils during his freshman campaign, ranking No. 7 in the NCAA at the end of the regular season in the all-around.
As usual, ASU should be the top club team in the country while also giving plenty of varsity teams a run for their money. The process goal, however, according to head coach Scott Barclay is to "stay healthy and HIT."
ROUTINE TO WATCH (according to Barclay): Kiwan Watts on PB and HB.
SLEEPER TO WATCH (according to Barclay): Freshman Jordan Williams.
Key Losses: Jeremiah McReynolds, Juan Palma
Key Additions: Andrew Lyubovsky, Kevin Portofee
2018 Finish: NCAA - 13th, ECAC - 2nd
The West Point Open is the first meet of the season for William & Mary, and they've had it circled on the calendar for months. "We've had it [WPO] on our minds for a while," said head coach Mike Powell. "To position ourselves, we want to come out of the gates ready to go."
Given the offseason that Powell was pleased with, it seems like the Tribe should be able to do just that. They'll be returning a few key seniors like All-American Jacopo Gliozzi and last year's top all-around scorer, Jack Hasenkopf. Gliozzi is actually fresh off of competing for Italy at the 2018 Turnier Der Meister World Cup in Cottbus, Germany. It was there that the senior placed 10th on PH, earning him a few points toward qualification for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
"The main thing is, the culture has been really solidified. The freshmen have come in as a cohesive unit and the seniors have taken them under their wing. Everyone's bought in and we have a good culture of hard work." - Mike Powell
As far as those freshmen go, one that Powell mentioned was Andrew Lyubovsky. The Virginia native was described as having some "flash" to his gymnastics and he should be able to help out on events like PB & HB.
At the end of the season, Powell says the goal, as always, is to end up qualifying to NCAA Championships as a team. With a solid five-gymnast senior class, the Tribe will surely have the experience necessary.
ROUTINE TO WATCH (according to Powell): "The way that David Watkins' rings has come along has been nice. He's ready to add another point of difficulty."
SLEEPER TO WATCH (according to Powell): "Tomas Palma will come into his own this year. He spent a few years developing and solidifying and has had a great first semester. I think he'll make a splash on the national scene."
Key Losses: Seth Cannon, Nathan Goff
Key Additions: Mathew Davis
2018 Finish: NCAA - 15th, ECAC - 3rd
Army's Associate head coach, Carmine Giglio, put things simply when describing this 2019 team by saying, "I think we look better than last year."
Well, considering that's the goal each and every year, I'd say that's a pretty good sign for the Black Knights. Army will be led by a pair of senior captains in James Gamarra and Cole Casanova -- the latter returned last season from injury after missing all of 2017.
A freshman to keep an eye out for will be Mathew Davis who hails from the same club gym (WOGA) as Casanova. Look for him on multiple events, more specifically FX and PB.
As always (and as you heard earlier from Navy), the goal will be to take down their fellow Academy. In their lone dual with the Mids last season, Army dropped a meet in Annapolis. This year, they'll be competing against their arch rival at home -- something that has been a major advantage year-in and year-out.
ROUTINE TO WATCH (according to Giglio): "We have Taka [Giese] who is a sophomore and has a really strong rings routine. He's got a great swing and layed-out full-out dismount."
SLEEPER TO WATCH (according to Giglio): "Cole [Casanova] came back slowly [last year, from injury]. He could have a breakout year and do really well in the all-around."
Key Losses: Chris Graff, Josh Dieker
Key Additions: Teaanou Gonzalez
2018 Finish: NCAA - 16th, ECAC - 4th
Head coach Matthew Davis knows that his team lost an important class of seniors. They're not the first team to deal with that problem, and they certainly won't be the last. However, as everyone knows, season waits for no one. That's why the Pride have adopted the "Always Compete" philosophy.
"Everyone reflects on how they can do better inside and outside of the gym. We did lose a big class, but we still have a great culture." - Matthew Davis.
While the Pride will be without two of their top three overall scorers from 2018, they'll still have last season's ECAC all-around champion, Stephen Lewis. Lewis, who competed all-around nine times in 2018, is coming off a trip to the World Championships where he competed for Jamaica.
Springfield will be put to the test early this season with their first meet being the West Point Open. They'll meet with three other ECAC foes in that meet in Navy, William & Mary and Army.
ROUTINE TO WATCH (according to Davis): "Jannik Haas on parallel bars is looking even better."
SLEEPER TO WATCH (according to Davis): "One I think who will breakout is Trevor Lamberton. He was right on the cusp last year and I can see his confidence is building this season. I think he’s one who is starting to get that mindset."
17. UIC Flames
Key Losses: Satchel Hudson, Basil Szechinski
Key Additions: Paul Burney
2018 Finish: NCAA - 18th, ECAC - 5th
In talking with UIC head coach Charley Nelson, I started with the obvious question. How will the team stay focused on gymnastics with everything going on around them?
"It's a determined group of guys, for sure. They've got one eye on the situation and what they can do, but they also understand they have a job to do. The number one thing you can do is live each gymnastics day like it’s your last. We have to keep fighting for the program and gymnastics itself as two different things." - Charley Nelson
Instead of going on about the state of its program, we'll focus on the most important thing -- the talented UIC Flames gymnasts who will be representing the program in 2019.
The most exciting among a crop of freshman who will help out from the jump is Paul Burney. He's got some high-flying releases on high bar which is an event where the Flames have struggled in years past.
Another important freshman for UIC will be Kaleb Booth who Nelson described as a "power tumbler." We should see him toward the back end of the that lineup for the Flames.
Unfortunately (and fortunately, in a way), every bit of success that UIC has this season will be fueled by a desire to stick it to the administration and show them the huge mistake they're making in cutting the program. A top-three finish at ECAC's as a team along with a handful of NCAA qualifiers should go a long way in doing just that.
ROUTINE TO WATCH (according to Nelson): "Nick Smiley on PB. He was the J.O. champ on PB this past year. The routine is packed pretty full. He’ll be right around a fifteen start value. He's clean and he’ll turn some heads as well. We’ll get him battle tested pretty quickly."
SLEEPER TO WATCH (according to Nelson): "Colin Schwartz is a sophomore, pommel horse is where he excels. He's got a gymnast body type, swings well and has start value. He has an outside shot at fighting for a spot in the NCAA final or being near the top-ten. From a conference standpoint he might be the guy to beat that nobody knows about."
1. Any significant additions/subtractions from last year's team?
HC Giancarlo Mora
: Washington's significant loss from last season was Carl Meader. Here a link to Carl's
2. If there's a significant addition, what event(s) will they be able to contribute most on?
: I am proud of everyone in my freshman class. However, I know all-arounders
will impact our scores greatly on FX and PH, respectively.
3. Give me a sleeper gymnast who you think could make a name for themselves/surprise some people.
: I think it is time for seniors
to show all the talent they have.
4. Is there one specific routine that people should look out for this year?
: Jacob Jarrett's routine on PB is full of excitement where he goes from one end of the bars to the other performing release after release. A Bhavsar, Tippelt and beautiful high straddle front toss are among his skills. He can easily be an All-American on this event.
5. What's the goal for this season?
: This season's team goal is to hit at least 26 routines out of 30 and arrive in the mid 370's.
1. Any significant additions/subtractions from last year's team?
HC Jesse Kitzen-Abelson
: A significant loss is Joe Fernandes. Significant additions are Taden Thurber and Ben Ewing.
2. Give me a sleeper gymnast who you think could make a name for themselves/surprise some people.
: Nicolino DiBattista.
3. Is there one specific routine that people should look out for this year?
: Toby Warren on FX. His double-layout is such a beauty.
5. What's the goal for this season?
: Temple’s main goal for the season is to qualify for the USAG collegiate championships as a team and continue growing the squad by raising awareness.
Individual Event Breakdown
Here we'll take an in-depth look at five individuals on each event that could have a legitimate shot at becoming an NCAA champion at the end of the year. The following breakdowns come from former Minnesota Golden Gopher and 2017 B1G FX champion, Alex Wittenberg, along with former Penn State Nittany Lion and team captain, Ben Cooperman.
Floor Exercise (Wittenberg)
Yul Moldauer - Oklahoma
It will come as a surprise to no one that the reigning NCAA Floor Exercise champ and World bronze medalist enters his senior season as the top dog on FX. Moldauer won the event at last year’s NCAA's by a healthy 0.8, with both the highest D and E scores of the meet. Par for the course for Moldauer.
Sebastian Quiana - Illinois
Dubbed the kid who doesn’t miss, Quiana was a rock throughout last season and was rewarded for it at NCAAs, earning silver on FX. He’s also capable of doing a much harder set than the 5.6 he competed. Quiana and his patented consistency will again be a force for the Illini in 2019 — particularly on FX, where the New Jersey native doesn’t seem to know how to take a hop.
Brennan Pantazis - Penn State
Pantazis kept consistent with the Penn State tradition of splashy freshmen — he claimed FX gold at last year’s Big Tens and looks to be preparing a significantly upgraded set. Pantazis also entered the postseason No. 6 nationally, another noteworthy achievement for a freshman. He’ll have to keep his power in check, but 2019 looks bright for the PSU sophomore.
Jacob Moore - Michigan
You couldn’t miss Moore warming up what seemed like an endless number of triple fulls every meet. But it paid off: the Michigan freshman last season tied with Quiana for silver at NCAAs. He also finished the regular season ranked first on FX, was a favorite for the Big Ten title, and competed with an aplomb rare for a freshman. He looks poised to turn heads again this season.
Shane Wiskus - Minnesota
A somewhat disappointing postseason on FX for Wiskus did not accord with his season on the whole: The Minnesota freshman capped the regular season ranked second in the country and was the only gymnast to claim a coveted 15 on the event. A freshmen-heavy Minnesota squad means Wiskus will be looked to for big performances regularly, and he’ll need a strong FX to keep him atop the All-Around rankings in 2019.
Pommel Horse (Cooperman)
Stephen Nedoroscik - Penn State
It’s hard to argue with back-to-back NCAA titles. Until someone dethrones him, Stephen Nedoroscik is the guy to beat. His lack of consistency throughout the regular season has left him looking up the leaderboard at the top guy heading into championships in his freshman and sophomore campaigns. In the biggest moment, he hasn’t disappointed. Expect Nedoroscik to be firing on all cylinders by the time his name is called in Champaign, Illinois.
Alec Yoder - Ohio State
This routine has been seen beyond the scope of NCAA men’s gymnastics on the world stage. If there is going to be someone who beats Nedoroscik, it’s Alec Yoder. What differentiates Yoder from the field is his remarkable consistency. On the hardest event in gymnastics, he never misses a beat. Pulling in a huge 15.5 as his top score last year, Alec Yoder certainly has what it takes to grab the title.
Yul Moldauer - Oklahoma
Probably the most unique routine of the contenders to the casual eye featuring quick paced flare work, Yul Moldauer is no stranger to seeing his name at the top of the pommel horse leaderboard. The Oklahoma Sooner stepped up last year to take on the daunting task of filling the shoes of Allan Bower as OU’s top score on the event. The start value may not be as high, but the World Team member seems to never miss.
Justin Karstadt - Minnesota
2018 was not the best year for Justin Karstadt on the pommel horse, but he came alive to notch a 5th place finish at the NCAA championships. A few words to describe his set: clean, smooth, and solid. His start value doesn’t match the very best, but he can take down the field in the execution panel. Expect Karstadt to set the tone on this event for the Golden Gophers all year and at the big event come April.
Genki Suzuki - Oklahoma
Genki Suzuki has quietly been a force to be reckoned with on horse for the past two years. Finding himself competing in front of big names like Moldauer and Bower, he has never really skipped a beat. Could 2019 be the year Suzuki emerges as one of the top pommel horse guys in the country? A 6th place finish earned him All-American honors last year and he could very well find himself closer to the top in 2019.
Still Rings (Cooperman)
Alex Diab - Illinois
He went into last season confident, and had the performance to back it up. Alex Diab took home the rings title last year with a 14.5. If anyone wants to challenge his title in the 2019 season, they are going to have to score even higher than that. The Fighting Illini features a huge start value and will likely crack the 15 mark multiple times this season.
Yul Moldauer - Oklahoma
The only guy even close to Diab at the 2018 Championships was Yul Moldauer. While Diab features near perfect lines on strength positions, Moldauer’s competitive advantage is his dismount. He sticks his double-double nearly every time. Expect Moldauer to be in the running once again for the still rings title.
Josiah Eng - Stanford
It was unfortunate to see Josiah Eng sidelined for the entirety of last year’s season due to an injury. The year before, he was the top guy in the country during the regular season. Eng could possibly have the highest start value in the NCAA in 2019. Look for Stanford’s top ring guy to be back in the lineup and stronger than ever.
Peter Daggett - Oklahoma
It has been a tough college run so far for Peter Daggett, with injuries plaguing him throughout. That doesn’t mean he should be overlooked coming into 2019. With Reese Rickett graduating and moving on from the team, the Oklahoma Sooners will likely look to this set to fill the big hole left behind. Daggett is going to be a big score on rings this year.
Noah Roberson - Penn State
How does Noah Roberson find himself in the mix for the 2019 Still Rings title without notching All-American honors the year before? Progression. Roberson was ranked 64th on rings at the end of the 2017 regular season. In 2018, he shot up the charts to number six. His performance in Chicago last year left him one tenth out of All-American honors. If there is any kind of pattern here, watch out for Roberson in 2019.
Anton Stephenson - Nebraska
It’s always a treat to watch a Yurchenko 2.5 get stuck cold, and Stephenson isn’t shy about doling out the goods: the back-to-back Big Ten vault champ has an uncanny ability to stick a vault. No one expects that quality to elude the Nebraska senior in 2019.
Yul Moldauer - Oklahoma
Moldauer’s pristine execution makes up for what he lacks in power. The reigning NCAA vault champ notched a 9.7 E score last year to add another gold to his collection. Moldauer just has to do what he’s always done to remain a top contender on vault in 2019.
Tanner Justus - Oklahoma
The raw power of Justus’s vault is a perfect complement to Moldauer’s for the Sooners. The Oklahoma junior was 0.1 behind Moldauer last year at NCAA's, keeping true to the Justus tradition of vault prowess. The OU junior should have no issue making similar strides in 2019.
Matt Wenske - Oklahoma
Wenske has been beset by injuries during his two years at Oklahoma, but that doesn’t mean he’s slowing down: the junior’s Kaz double full looks ready, meaning he’ll have a 0.4 advantage in start value over almost everyone else. If he can steer clear of injuries, Wenske will be at the top of the vault rankings come championships.
Anthony McCallum - Michigan
McCallum will probably be the only other gymnast to compete a 5.6 this season. That puts the Michigan senior in a position he’s familiar with: being the man to beat. McCallum won vault at the 2016 and 2017 NCAA's and has plenty of other titles to point to. McCallum is almost unbeatable when he puts his Tsuk double pike to his feet, so that’ll be his task in 2019.
Parallel Bars (Wittenberg)
Yul Moldauer - Oklahoma
Moldauer’s difficulty put him well above the rest of the pack on PB last season: His 6.0 carried him to victory at last year’s championships despite an uncharacteristically shaky execution. We’ve heard this story already, but it rings as true as ever on PB: Moldauer has to do what he’s always done to remain ahead of his competitors. No one would be surprised if he pulls away further either.
Johnny Jacobson - Illinois
Jacobson has had an illustrious career on PB that includes a Big Ten championship and a second-place NCAA finish. Though it was somewhat of an up-and-down 2018 on PB for the Illinois junior, whose No. 9 ranking at the end of the regular season didn’t seem to truly reflect his potential, Jacobson showed up when it mattered most, an ability he’ll continue to possess in 2019.
Justin Karstadt - Minnesota
Karstadt in 2018 bounced back from a disappointing sophomore season to tie for third at NCAA's on PB. And although he wasn’t at the top of the rankings during the regular season, his upswing in the postseason fitted him with the confidence to make huge strides in his senior season. Look for Karstadt to compete PB with newfound flair in 2019.
Sam Zakutney - Penn State
Zakutney tied with fellow his Canadian to earn bronze at last season’s NCAA's on PB, marking his second consecutive All-American on the event. The PSU junior had a much more consistent season than Karstadt and Jacobson, and entered the postseason ranked second. Zakutney should have no trouble keeping up with the PB successes he’s already enjoyed in his penultimate season with the Nittany Lions.
Cameron Bock - Michigan
Bock is coming off of a PB All-American in 2018 and a stellar performance at the Pan American Championships in September. That’s expected to goose up the Michigan sophomore’s confidence in 2019, a year of high-hopes for the Wolverines. Bock is one of the team’s leaders, and Michigan will need him to build on the composure he exhibited last season for their hopes to be realized in 2019.
High Bar (Cooperman)
Grant Breckenridge - Stanford
The one-two punch Robert Neff and Grant Breckenridge provided in the back of Stanford’s lineup last year was something else. With Neff moving on, the door is open for Breckenridge to be the top dog. His set is stacked, featuring huge tkachevs and taks right to handstand. The Illinois native will be the guy to beat on high bar.
Ross Thompson - Illinois
A true leader for the Fighting Illini, Ross Thompson puts up numbers on high bar. Thompson’s performance last year left him one spot out of All-American status. With big shoes to fill after Tyson Bull’s departure, this guy won’t disappoint.
Sam Zakutney - Penn State
Sam Zakutney has huge potential on high bar. Tying for seventh last year in Chicago, only two people ahead of him will be in the field in 2019. The Canadian will likely benefit from a big increase in start value this coming season, he certainly has what it takes to bring home the NCAA title.
Levi Anderson - Oklahoma
Zakutney was joined last year in his seventh place tie with Levi Anderson. The Oklahoma Sooner has been one of the best high bar guys in the country for the past few years. His layed-out double-double dismount can easily put him on the podium with a stick.
Genki Suzuki - Oklahoma
Another Oklahoma Sooner finds himself in contention for the high bar title. Genki Suzuki’s progression under Mark William’s has been nothing short of remarkable. Suzuki took the floor at the 2018 NCAA Championships ranked number one on high bar, but was unable to land himself in the top eight. 2019 offers him a shot at redemption, and he will be looking for that top spot.