Big Ten Men’s Gymnastics Week 5 Recap: Illinois upsets Michigan, Ohio State scores season high

By David Willett | February 7, 2024
Illinois' Evan Manivong at the 2023 Core Hydration Classic.
© Amy Sanderson/Gymnastics Now

Week 5 brought heated matchups in Big Ten men’s gymnastics, with the regular season starting.

In a highly anticipated matchup, Illinois handed Michigan its first loss of the season. Nebraska had its first head-to-head competition of the season, beating Penn State in Lincoln. Ohio State posted a season-high score but fell to the Sooners. Thus far in the season, no team has a firm grasp of the top spot in the Big Ten, and the title is truly up for grabs.

#4 Michigan @ #5 Illinois

Final score: Illinois: 413.800 – Michigan: 410.350


Illinois has now won back-to-back duals against opponents ranked in the top five, beating Michigan 413.800-410.350. Illinois had a steady hold of the lead throughout the competition. 

Connor McCool started the competition with a massive 14.55 on floor to win the event. McCool’s cat-like ability to nail landings has truly allowed him to rise above almost all floor competitors in the NCAA. Tate Costa also delivered a clean floor set and scored a 14.3, which tied for third. 

With a jam-packed routine, including the largest-amplitude Bezugo in the NCAA, Brandon Dang dominated the pommel rotation, scoring an NCAA high of 15.2 and winning the event title by nearly a point. This was a true display of Dang’s potential as his routine alone gave the Fighting Illini a huge advantage on the event despite mistakes in their lineup. Will Hauke also had a strong pommel showing, scoring a 14.3 to place second behind his teammate. Ashton Anaya out-dueled Michigan’s Javier Alfonso for the rings event title, scoring a 14.4.

Illinois showed its vaulting prowess, having all scores at or above 14.4, highlighted by Garrett Schooley’s Lopez, scoring a 14.75. Almost all of the Illinois vault lineup made it into the top five scores on the event, totaling a 72.9 – the highest vault score in the country this season and a program record.

Michael Fletcher delivered the top score for Illinois on parallel bars with a 14.1 – good enough for third on the event. Illinois stayed consistent on the event to maintain its lead heading into the final rotation. Costa delivered a 14.3 on high bar to lead the Illini to their first Big Ten head-to-head victory of the season. Illinois has turned around its high bar lineup, making it a strength compared to previous seasons.

“Knowing we had [a] big difficulty gap to Michigan, we knew every single set needed to [be] hit to the max,” team captain Connor McCool said following the big win. “Only ending up with one fall on the day, and seeing people like Brandon and Tate really go out and strive for a big, perfect set [without] holding back was super special and showed up in their scores.”

Daniel Ribeiro has Illinois in a position to potentially take hold of the regular season and Big Ten Championship titles at this rate.

Illinois will look to maintain its momentum against Simpson next on Friday, February 9 at 6:30 p.m. ET. Illinois will not face another Big Ten opponent head-to-head until March 10, when they face Nebraska in Lincoln. 


Michigan suffered the first loss of its season to Illinois in Urbana-Champaign. Despite having large contributions from NCAA all-around champions and world medalists Paul Juda and Fred Richard, major errors allowed Illinois to maintain the lead throughout the competition. 

Landen Blixt delivered a strong 14.45 for the Wolverines’ top floor score and placed second on the event. Juda placed right behind Blixt on the event, scoring a 14.3. Falls on floor put the Wolverines in a deficit to start the competition. Juda’s flairs-heavy pommel horse routine led the Wolverines with a 14.25. Richard also crossed the 14 plane with a 14.1 on the event. Michigan’s rings lineup took second-fifth place on the event, highlighted by Alfonso’s 14.3 that earned him second.

Juda nailed his Kas 1.5 on vault, scoring a 14.8 for the event win. His impeccable execution coming onto the table allows him to reach scoring above the 14.5 mark, even when he doesn’t stick. Richard scored the second highest on vault for the Wolverines with a 14.45. Richard also scored a 14.4 on parallel bars for the event title, followed by teammate Evgeny Siminiuc, who scored a 14.3. Falls on high bar would prevent the Wolverines from making a comeback. Richard closed out the meet with an NCAA high score of 14.9, winning the event title there as well. His new addition of a Liukin looks to already be perfected, which could enable him to break the 15 plateau this season. Juda was the lone competitor in the all-around, scoring an 82.8 in his first NCAA all-around showing since the 2022 NCAA Championships. Juda did so despite a week that saw him battling the flu, getting in a car crash, being in the emergency room with a kidney stone. Read more about that here.

“I’d say we learn the most from competitions like this. It only makes us better,” Richard said following the loss. Although Michigan had the difficulty advantage, this matchup was proof that execution is key in gymnastics.

Michigan will try and pick up their first Big Ten win of the season against Nebraska at home in Week 6 on Saturday, February 10 at 1 p.m. ET. 

#8 Penn State @ #3 Nebraska

Final Score: Nebraska: 406.800 – Penn State: 403.200

Penn State

The Nittany Lions fell to the Cornhuskers, 406.800-403.200, in Lincoln on Saturday, despite a season-high score. Michael Artlip led the way on floor, scoring a 14 and tying Nebraska’s Toby Liang for the event title. Michael Jaroh earned his second consecutive pommel event title with a 13.95. Luke Esparo was the lone competitor on the rings to cross the 14 plane, scoring a 14 for the event title. Jaroh and Ian Raubal also contributed strong scores on rings with a 13.75 and 13.7, respectively. Matthew Underhill posted the strongest score on vault for Penn State, delivering a 14.5. Penn State hit the top three marks of the competition on parallel bars. Josh Karnes won the event by a margin of 0.650 with a 14.55, followed by Matt Cormier with a 13.9 and Raubal with a 13.45. Karnes also had the highest high bar score for the Nittany Lions with a 14.05, which earned him second place on the event, followed by Akseli Karsikas with a 13.8.

“We were primed and ready to make some decent improvements, but that didn’t show today. We let it get away from us here with Nebraska, so we’ll have to sharpen up to be more competitive in the Big Ten,” stated head coach Randy Jepson following the loss.

The Nittany Lions will seek vengeance in Week 6 when they take on Ohio State at home on Saturday, February 10 at 4 p.m. ET.


Nebraska picked up its first Big Ten win of the season over Penn State, 406.800-403.200.

Liang started the day with an event title on floor, scoring a 14. Sam Phillips also placed third on the event with a 13.95. 

Yanni Chronopoulos and Travis Wong took second and third on the pommel with a 13.6 and 13.55, respectively. Asher Cohen led the way on rings for the Cornhuskers with a 13.9, followed by Phillips with a 13.8, also second and third.

The Cornhuskers started to separate themselves on vault, led by star newcomers Alex Nitache and Chase Mondi, who scored a 14.85 and 14.7, respectively, with Nitache winning the event title in just his second meet. The Cornhuskers put up a 72.850 on the event, which is the second highest team vault score in the country this season.

Cohen also led Nebraska on parallel bars with a 13.4. Despite the Nittany Lions gaining on the Cornhuskers on parallel bars, Zachary Tiderman was able to close out the victory on high bar with a career-best 14.45 and the event title. Phillips also had a strong showing with a 13.7 on the event.

Phillips was the lone competitor in the all-around, finishing with an 80.5. Following the win, Phillips stated that “[the team] has so much more room to grow and our falls were flukes and uncharacteristic for the most part … With [Taylor Christopulos] back in our lineup next week, and a sharpened 15-man lineup, we will be locked and loaded for our Michigan matchup.”

The Cornhuskers will have to stay consistent to keep up with Illinois and Michigan in the Big Ten. Nebraska will travel to Ann Arbor to take on Michigan on Saturday, February 10 at 1 p.m. ET.

#6 Ohio State & Arizona State @ #2 Oklahoma

Final score: Oklahoma: 411.500, Ohio State: 400.600, Arizona State: 379.000

Despite losing to the Sooners, Ohio State broke the 400 plateau in its best showing of the season against Oklahoma and Arizona State (GymACT).

The Buckeyes started the competition on pommel horse. Despite a low-scoring rotation, Jesse Pakele scored a career-high 13.65 to lead the Buckeyes on the event. Donovan Hewitt and Kameron Nelson led the way on rings, scoring team-high 13.5s. The Buckeyes set a season-high score of 68.65 on floor, highlighted by Nelson’s season-high score of 14.4. Kazuki Hayashi also set a season high of 13.9 on the event. 

Christian Bartolini scored the top mark for the Buckeyes on parallel bars with a 13.4, which was a career high. Coming off a rough fifth rotation, Ohio State bounced back strong in the last two rotations. Caden Spencer nailed his high bar routine for a 14.3, winning the event by over half a point. Kristian Grahovski also scored in the top three on the event with a 13.35. Ohio State ended its day with a season-high vault rotation, scoring a 72.7, which is the third highest team vault score in the nation this season. Zach Synder delivered a 15 to tie for the title with the Sooners’ Max Bereznev. Justin Ciccone once again delivered a huge vault score of 14.95, which placed third on the event. 

Although the Buckeyes suffered their first loss of the season, they showed steady progress from their performance at the Navy Open.

“We have a lot of details to work on, but we can capitalize on [our strengths] of vault and rings [throughout the season],” stated team captain Nelson following the competition.

Ohio State will open its Big Ten regular season at Penn State on Saturday, February 10 at 4 p.m. ET.