Navy clinches comeback win over Air Force at USAG Championships as Falcons claim 4 event titles

By Alex Wittenberg | March 28, 2023
The Navy men's gymnastics team after winning the 2023 USAG Championships for men's gymnastics.
The Navy men's gymnastics team after winning the 2023 USAG Championships for men's gymnastics. (Photo courtesy Springfield Athletics.)

After trailing Air Force by roughly a point halfway through the meet, Navy rallied through 14 hits in its last three rotations to capture a win over the Falcons at the men’s USAG Championships on Friday. 

The Mids and the Falcons were within half a point entering the final rotation, where Air Force competed on pommel horse and Navy on rings. Navy hit all five routines on its final event, while Air Force counted a couple mistakes on dismounts before Patrick Hoopes put down a clutch routine in the anchor spot to give the Falcons a chance at victory. 

But after Hoopes’ routine, Navy’s Isaiah Drake responded with a stuck dismount to close out the Mids’ rings rotation and seal the team’s win. Navy finished with a season-high score of 396.8 to Air Force’s 395.5. 

Springfield took third with a score of 387.35 for its best team finish at USAGs since 2011. William & Mary finished fourth with a 382.2, while Simpson was sixth with a 360.5. 

Navy started its competition with five hits and one stick by Giovanni Gambatese on vault. Drake closed the rotation with a clean Kas 1.5 to tally the best score of the day with a 14.55. Connor Van Loo tied for Friday’s second-best vault score of 14.5 with his Yurchenko 2.5, and Matthew Petros landed a Kas 1.5 to score a 14.35.

The Mids also hit all five sets on parallel bars, with William Champagne turning in the team’s best score of 14.0. Champagne performed a healy, peach handstand, and stuck his double pike dismount. Vishal Mandava and Drake each scored 13.35, with Mandava showing off some of the best peach work in the country. 

Navy counted one miss on high bar but also recorded two sticks. Gambatese had the best routine of the rotation, catching a Kovacs, Kolman, straddle Tkatchev, and landing his full-twisting double layout to score a 13.3. Riley Rose, Sabastian Gordon, and Erik Engelke all turned in scores of 13.0. 

The team hit five-for-five again on floor. Van Loo capped the rotation with a competition-leading 14.35, sticking a double-double before bounding through a front double full to layout and clean triple-full dismount. Syam Buradagunta notched a 13.8, while Matthew Rosendahl went 13.7. 

Navy led by more than four points after four events but faced the daunting prospect of a potentially competition-deciding horse rotation as its fifth rotation. The team suffered a major error in its lead-off set, raising the pressure on the rest of the lineup. Yet, Navy managed to secure four hits to round out the rotation and enter the final rotation with a slight lead. 

The Mids started out rings with a stick and proceeded to hit its final four routines. Engelke followed up lead-off man Aaron Stein with a stuck 1.5-twisting double back, and Drake stuck a full-twisting double back to close out the night. 

Air Force’s competition came down to its final event – pommel horse. The Falcons were almost two points better than Navy on the event but still counted a fall and a separate error on a dismount. Hoopes’ anchor-spot routine was the best horse set of the day by a more than one-point margin, though. Hoopes competed a 6.5-difficulty set that included a Kehr to F flop, Sohn, full Stockli, E flop, Roth, triple Russian, and swing-handstand dismount for a score of 14.65. 

The Falcons also counted errors on floor, its second-to-last event, but Erich Upton salvaged the rotation with a 14.1 from the anchor position, landing a front full to double front, double-double, and triple-full dismount. Jake Sampier also hit a clean set to advance to floor finals. 

In addition to his strong finish on floor, Upton had podium-worthy performances on rings, vault, and parallel bars to advance to Saturday’s event finals. Air Force’s Garrett Braunton had the second-best score of the meet on high bar (13.2), while Oliver Zavel was third on rings (13.2). 

Springfield had season-best performances on floor and parallel bars on Friday. On floor, Jakarie Williams placed third with a 14.0 and Dominic Ramalho finished in a tie for fourth with a 13.8 to advance to event finals. Ramalho tied for the top spot on parallel bars, scoring a 14.0, while Sam Kaplan finished fourth with a 13.8. Ramalho was also runner-up in the all-around with a six-event total of 78.35. 

Other top performances by the Pride on Friday came from Colton O’Brien, who finished second on horse with a 13.55, and Owen Carney, who scored 12.95 to place seventh on high bar. 

William & Mary’s Aidan Cuy won the all-around with a 78.45 and placed top 5 on rings. The Tribe tallied a season-best score on high bar, led by Evan Sikra’s 13.15. 

The Tribe’s Sam Smith was top 5 on horse with a score of 13.0, and Trenton Peazant stuck his Tsuk double full on vault to tie for fourth with a 14.35. 

Christian Marsh finished fifth on parallel bars (13.500) to advance to finals on the event, and Mark Fu was eighth on high bar with a 12.9 that also qualified him for Saturday’s competition. 

Simpson had its best high bar rotation of the year on Friday, with Michelangelo Villani leading the lineup with a score of 12.35. The team’s Sterling Pariza and Kyle Kincade advanced to event finals on floor. 

Air Force rebounds from near-win to dominate event finals

The 2023 USAG Championships individual event winners: (from left to right) Springfield’s Jakarie Williams, Air Force’s Patrick Hoopes, Springfield’s David Handron, Air Force’s Erich Upton, and Air Force’s Garrett Braunton. (Photos courtesy USA Gymnastics and Springfield Athletics.)

The Falcons secured four titles on Saturday during the event finals portion of the USAG Championships, with Erich Upton earning a pair of golds and a silver. 

Springfield claimed the top spots on the other two events and closed out Saturday with 11 USAG All-America honorees, the most in program history, according to Pride athletics. 

Navy’s Isaiah Drake was top 3 on three events, while William & Mary’s Aidan Cuy earned a bronze on parallel bars. Simpson’s Sterling Pariza finished sixth on floor. 

On floor, Springfield’s Jakarie Williams scored a season-high 14.15 to win the event by more than two-tenths of a point. Williams opened with a clean front double pike before landing a double-double, full-in, and sticking his back 2.5 dismount. Navy gymnasts Connor Van Loo and Syam Buradagunta rounded out the podium with respective scores of 13.9 and 13.85. 

Patrick Hoopes extended his strong pommel horse season with a gold on Saturday, despite falling on his dismount. Hoopes performed his signature Kehr to F flop, full Stockli, Sohn, E flop, Roth, triple Russian, Tong Fei, and Belenki before coming off on his swing-handstand dismount. Hoopes repeated his dismount well and scored a 13.6 to win by a more than three-tenth margin. Navy’s Drake and Ronan McQuillan finished second and third, respectively, with scores of 13.25 and 13.2. 

The Pride’s David Handron earned gold on rings with a score of 13.25. Handron performed a back uprise Maltese, Nakayama, back uprise cross, and stuck his full-twisting double back dismount to secure the win. Upton finished second on the event with a score of 13.2, while Drake and Sam Kaplan tied for third with scores of 13.1. 

On vault, Air Force’s Upton and Samuel Metzler earned the top two spots, and both competed Kas 1.5s. Upton took a small hop back on his landing to score a 14.45, while Metzler took a small step and scored a 14.35. Navy’s Drake rounded out the podium, scoring a 14.3 with his own Kas 1.5. 

Upton earned another gold on parallel bars with a routine that included a peach handstand, healy, Diam, Stutz, and a clean double pike dismount. Upton scored a 13.9 on the event. Springfield’s Kaplan was runner-up with a score of 13.6, while the Tribe’s Cuy finished third with a 13.45. 

The Falcons’ Garrett Braunton hit one of his best high bar routines of the year to take the top spot. Braunton performed a Tak full, Tak half, Cassina, Kolman, layout and straddle Tkatchevs, and a layout double-double dismount to score a 14.4 for a seven-tenth win. Springfield’s Owen Carney finished second with a 13.7, while Navy’s Giovanni Gambatese was third with a 13.6.