Big Ten Men’s Gymnastics Week 1 Recap: Penn State, Michigan freshmen classes key in first wins

By David Willett | January 9, 2024
Penn State's Josh Karnes on high bar at the 2023 Winter Cup.
© Amy Sanderson/Gymnastics Now

Highlighted by their underclassmen, both Penn State and Michigan secured victories in their season openers over the weekend. Both teams saw their freshmen claim event titles and truly display the depth of talent in the Big Ten. With many stars resting for the first week of competition, expect team scores to be on an upward trajectory throughout the season. 

#2 Michigan takes down #14 Greenville and #15 Simpson

The No. 2 Wolverines posted the high score of the week with a 404.900 over Greenville’s 383.5 and Simpson’s 366. Head coach Yuan Xiao opted to rest his star athletes, Paul Juda and Fred Richard, who are guaranteed to bolster Michigan’s lineups throughout the season. 

The Wolverines also claimed four event titles and the all-around title. Former Minnesota star Crew Bold upgraded his floor routine from the prior season to lead the team in the opening rotation with a 13.5.

Freshman Kyle Walchuk took the pommel horse title with a 14.3 score on a 15.8 start value. The packed routine includes an E-valued travel, Sohn, and multiple clean flops. Walchuk has the potential to become Michigan’s anchor on horse in his first competitive season. The Wolverines finished the rotation with a 13.8 from sophomore Zach Granados, which included a rare Vammen. 

The highlight of the meet came from senior Javier Alfonso on still rings, where he scored a 14.7 on a 16.0 start value. This is a large upgrade to an all-american routine which will likely contend for an NCAA title. Akshay Puri also contributed a 13.75 in his NCAA debut. 

Michigan’s vault rotation was highlighted by David Wolma, who scored a 14.7 on a stuck Kas 1.5. Wolma stuck nearly 50% of his vaults in the prior season and looks to have started this season on a similar note. His score earned him the award of Big Ten Specialist of the Week. With that being said, Greenville’s Logan Watterson also nailed his own Kas 1.5, scoring a 14.95 and claiming the event title.

Michigan closed out the competition with Evgeny Siminuc taking the parallel bars title with a 14.35 and Crew Bold taking the high bar title with a high-flying routine that scored a 14.4. Newcomer Pierce Wolfgang took the all-around title with a 78.2 in his first NCAA showing. 

The Wolverines’ freshman-heavy lineup showed their depth, which will be critical during a long season. Expect to see Crew Bold, Evgeny Siminuic, and Landen Blixt take on bigger roles in their next competition at the Windy City Invitational on Jan. 13.

#6 Penn State highlights freshman class in win over #11 Army

No. 6 Penn State took down the Army Black Knights, 393.800 – 370.450, at home on Friday. To open the season, Head coach Randy Jepson chose to rest key competitors like Michael Jaroh and limited the events that CGA All-Stars MVP Josh Karnes competed in. Still, Karnes claimed Big Ten Gymnast of the Week. Freshman Landon Simpson also took home a Big Ten weekly award for his event title on pommel horse in his NCAA debut.

The Nittany Lions started the competition with a 61.450 on floor. Despite the lower overall event score, Karnes was able to claim his first event title of the day with a 13.5. Expect large strides to be made on this event throughout the season as floor exercise standout Matt Cormier returns to their all-around lineup after recovering from an injury.

The pommel horse rotation was highlighted by Simpson, who scored a 13.65, earning him the event title and Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors. Simpson showcased his unique flair-filled routine, packed with a multitude of travels and limited deductions. 

The newcomers continued to shine on rings, where freshman Luke Esparo won the event title with a score of 13.6. Esparo’s routine includes multiple high-level strength holds and an enormous double-twisting double back dismount.

The last two events were dominated by Karnes, who scored a 14.9 on parallel bars and a 14.05 on high bar. His high-difficulty parallel bars routine was capped off with a stuck double front dismount, giving him over a 1-point margin of victory on the event. Karnes continued to shine in the last event where he nailed four releases to seal the team victory and his third event title of the day. Akseli Karsikas also made his debut on high bar, scoring a 13.7 to secure a second place finish on the event.

“Solid start tonight. We’ve been battered and beaten up and fought through illness,” Jepson said. “But we put together a lineup tonight that showed some consistency and great bright spots.”