After taking a bye in the first week of the season, two conference dual matchups kick off the MPSF men’s gymnastics season. Cal and Stanford battle it out in the Bay Area while Air Force makes the trip to McCasland Field House to take on Oklahoma.
Stanford crosses the bay for Cal’s Benefit Cup
The hunt for five in a row starts this weekend for the Cardinal. The last time we saw Stanford compete as a team was at the NCAA Championships back in April, but we got a glimpse of what they will bring this season with Asher Hong and Khoi Young dominating at the Xfinity U.S. Gymnastics Championships in August and again in October when they helped Team USA end the U.S. men’s world medal drought.
This weekend sets the stage for the first of many competitions where Stanford and Cal will be sharing the floor, and Stanford will be looking to pick up right where it left off in last year’s team final, when they scored a 422.458. We may not see Stanford’s full force this weekend, but between a strong core group and arguably the deepest bench in the NCAA, Stanford is full of gymnasts and routines to watch.
Keep an eye out for:
- Asher Hong on vault. The hardest vault in the world. The Ri Se Gwang is a Tsuk double back with a full twist. It’s hard to fully explain how crazy this vault is; you just have to watch it live.
- Khoi Young on a pommel horse. The reigning world silver medalist on horse, Young’s great swing and confidence makes one of the most challenging men’s apparatus look easy, but between a Busnari, Driggs, and other high difficulty travel and turning elements, his routine is anything but simple.
The Cal Benefit Cup is California’s fundraising competition and means a lot to the team and the community. Ahead of this weekend, captain Noah Newfeld said, “What makes this team so special is the sheer number of seniors we have on the team who are determined to make a statement in their last year. It also means we have a lot of leadership on this team, which gives the team a strong sense of direction.” The seniors are not the only ones looking to make their presence known, Newfeld continues, “We have a lot of young blood that have been pushing the older guys. Expect strong performances from Tucker Yasunaga, Carter Kim, and Jaxon Mitchell in their debut.”
Routines to watch:
- Jasper Smith-Gordon on vault. The former British National Team members boasts a Kasamatsu double full (Tsuk triple full). One of only a handful of gymnasts competing this vault in the world, he brings a sense of power and allure that makes you sit back in awe.
- Chris Scales on rings. Few have gotten as strong as Scales has as quickly as he has. Adding in multiple strength elements over the seasons, including Malteses and inverted crosses, his increased difficulty makes his routine one to keep an eye on this season.
Oklahoma hosts Air Force
Ahead of the season starting, news broke that freshmen Emmitt Glover and Brandon Zepeda-Orth were removed from the roster. Citing roster size limits, head coach Mark Williams said, “No drama here. Brandon and Emmitt are fantastic athletes and students… having to make these tough decisions [is] one of the worst parts of the job.”
After a surprising fourth place finish at the NCAA Championships last April, Oklahoma looks to use this weekend to begin shifting the narrative and reminding the country of the OU Dynasty that dominated the 2010s. Walking into this weekend, Jack Freeman says, “We are very excited to test this team’s abilities. We have a good amount of new faces on the team this year, and I’m ready to see how we handle a real meet environment together.” With the start of the season this weekend, Freeman and Oklahoma are keeping their goals in mind: “Oklahoma’s mentality will always be to keep the main thing the main thing… winning a national championship.”
Routines to watch:
- Ignacio Yockers on pommel horse. Boasting a 6.4+ difficulty, Yockers’ routine includes a Mikulak (yes, Sam Mikulak’s own skill!), a Sohn (a full Kehr on one pommel), and a Wu Guonian (720 degree Russian down the horse). In addition to high difficulty, his routine has great flow and pacing, which makes watching it so satisfying.
- Jack Freeman on high bar. You can usually find him anchoring Oklahoma’s high bar lineup, and after you watch his routine once, you’ll understand why. His confidence and technique make his routine, which includes a Kolman and Tkatchev combinations, exciting to watch.
Being a student-athlete is challenging, but attending a military academy adds another layer of difficulty. The Falcons have been pushing difficulty for the past couple of years, and this might be the season it pays off. Opening the season this weekend, Patrick Hoopes said, “Our biggest goal for the start of the season is consistency and trying to go as close to 30/30 as possible.” Consistency will be key as Air Force looks to join the upper echelon and be one of the six teams to make it to Day 2 at the NCAA Championships.
These guys have an intense and rigorous schedule, but leaning on each other has brought this team close and helps them get through it. Hoopes said, “What separates us is our team culture… We’re all super close. These guys are my best friends in and outside of the gym.” We will almost certainly see this team camaraderie showcased this weekend.
Routines to watch:
- Patrick Hoopes on pommel horse. The MPSF is full of pommel horse greats, and Patrick Hoopes is definitely one of them. His 6.5 difficulty routine includes a Sohn (full Kehr on one pommel), Bezugo (reverse Stockli on one pommel), and other high-level flop and travel elements. One of the fan favorites to win pommels this season, you won’t want to miss his routine.
- Garrett Braunton on high bar. A career-best of 14.85 tells us his routine is one to watch. With a Cassina, Kolman, Tkatchevs, and Jam variations, his routine closely resembles 2022 world high bar champion Brody Malone’s. Braunton is an all-arounder, but his high-flying high bar routine is one you need to make sure you watch.