NCAA men’s gymnastics Week 4: Big Ten dual meets headline 6 matchups this weekend 

By Alex Wittenberg | January 28, 2023
Jakob Murray - Ohio State
Ohio State's Jakob Murray competes on parallel bars during the 2022 NCAA Men's Gymnastics Championships. (© Amy Sanderson)

Two sets of Big Ten rivals go head-to-head this Saturday in dual meets that could determine the current leader of the conference. Michigan will host Ohio State, and Penn State will face Nebraska in State College.

The Cal Bears head to Stanford for a dual meet, Air Force and Illinois take on Oklahoma, and Navy hosts William & Mary. On Sunday, Army faces off against Springfield. 

Here’s what to watch in Week 4 of NCAA men’s gymnastics. 

No. 3 Nebraska vs. No. 4 Penn State

The rising Husker team will be looking to build on their momentum from last week’s Rocky Mountain Open by beating the Nittany Lions in State College. Penn State will focus on rebounding from a tough day at the Navy Open and defending home turf. 

Nebraska put up the third-best score in the Big Ten last weekend, with standout performances by Taylor Christopulos, Liam Doherty-Herwitz, James Friedman, Donte McKinney, Travis Wong, and Zac Tiderman. The Huskers prevailed over Michigan and put pressure on OU by showing up big on high bar — scoring a nation-leading 69.05 — and by earning the second-best scores of the meet on horse and rings. Read more about Nebraska’s Rocky Mountain performance here

The Huskers will look to exploit their advantages over Penn State on horse and high bar — they rank third on each nationally. Nebraska can also add points on parallel bars and floor by eliminating errors they recorded on both events last weekend. 

Routines to watch from Nebraska on Saturday include: 

  • Christopulos’ floor set. He went 14.4 on floor for the RMO title with a huge layout double-double opening pass and a stuck triple full dismount. Video here
  • Wong’s and Cooper Giles’ pommel routines. Wong scored a 13.75 after executing strong scissor and flop work and a fluid handstand dismount. Video. Giles was right behind with a 13.7.
  • McKinney’s high bar. He put down a gorgeous routine at RMO for a 14.25 with floaty release elements and excellent inbar work. Video

Penn State still claims the best team score in the Big Ten so far — its 407.6 in Week 2 made a strong statement — but the Nittany Lions fell below 400 last weekend after missing 11 sets. They’ll obviously need to hit if they intend to upset Nebraska this weekend, and better showings on floor and horse, in particular, will be important, too. 

The Nittany Lions have plenty of talent in Michael Jaroh, Matt Cormier, Michael Artlip, Ian Raubal, and others. While floor was one of Penn State’s worst events last weekend, they still hold the nation’s third-best score on the event this season. A big improvement on the event is entirely possible Saturday. The Nittany Lions can also make up four points from last week on horse by matching their season high from the week before. 

Routines to watch for Penn State include: 

  • Cormier’s floor. He holds the current best score of the nation on the event after going 14.65 at the West Point Open. Video
  • Raubal’s rings. He went 14.5 at West Point with a set featuring strong Maltese work and a stuck double-double. 
  • Cormier’s Kas 1.5. He’s scored as high as 14.85 with that vault
  • Karnes’ parallel bars. The sophomore scored a 14.35 last weekend and displays clean giant work and a lofty Bhavsar. 

No. 5 Ohio State @ No. 6 Michigan

The Buckeyes are coming off a big upset over Penn State last weekend that saw the team showcase a high hit percentage and a nation-best performance on pommel horse. 

Ohio State put up a 68.25 on horse after going five-for-five on the fickle event with Kristian Grahovski and Parker Thackston leading the way with scores of 14.25 and 14.0, respectively. The Buckeyes have a real opportunity to separate themselves from Michigan by once again executing on horse, a so far weaker event for the Wolverines. Ohio State currently ranks No. 2 nationally on the event. 

Ohio State also made big strides on high bar last weekend, scoring 66.5. Caden Spencer and Kazuki Hayashi led the Buckeyes’ lineup on the event, placing first and third, respectively. Overall, Ohio State improved on five of six events at the Navy Open from their previous meet. The Buckeye squad has momentum on its side, but toppling the Wolverines in Ann Arbor is no easy task. 

Routines to watch from the Buckeyes include: 

  • Grahovski on horse. The freshman scored 14.25 last weekend by showing off gorgeous flop work and a flared Magyar and Sivado. 
  • Spencer’s high bar. He went 13.9 for the title last weekend in a set featuring a layout Tkatechev connected to a straddle Tkatchev, a straddle Piatti, and excellent inbar and pirouette work. 
  • Donovan Hewitt’s rings. Hewitt has a couple Malteses and a nice straight planche in his set

Michigan has had a slow start to the season with Paul Juda inactive and following an inconsistent performance at Rocky Mountain. The Wolverines missed 11 routines last weekend and will be looking to regain confidence this Saturday. 

The Wolverines have the potential. They started out leading at Rocky Mountain through the first three events. But then came costly misses on high bar, floor, and pommel horse. 

Still, Michigan freshman Fred Richard had a big day, winning the all-around with an 83.2, and Crew Bold was back competing on rings and high bar. The Wolverines also managed to earn the nation’s second-best parallel bar scores after strong sets from Evgeny Siminiuc, Lais Najjar, and Richard. 

Michigan can vie for a win by finding a way to once again hit sets and showing off their difficulty score advantage with well-executed routines. 

Routines to watch from the Wolverines include: 

  • Richard’s high bar. He was runner-up on the event last weekend with a routine that featured a Cassina, a Liukin, connected layout and straddle Tkatchevs, and a layout double-double dismount. 
  • Markus Shears’ horse. Shears holds the nation’s best score on horse (14.45) and boasts a gorgeous swing that accentuates his flops, scissor work, full spindle, and full Kehr. 
  • Siminiuc’s parallel bars. The junior went 14.6 for third place at Rocky Mountain with a peach half and stuck double pike dismount

Air Force and Illinois @ OU

Oklahoma enters the weekend as the clear favorite against Air Force and Illinois after posting a 411.85 in its runner-up finish at Rocky Mountain. The Sooners are the only team save Stanford to break 410, and they got there last weekend by hitting clean routines. Still, OU can make up points on rings, where they counted a few 12s last weekend. Routines to watch from the Sooners include: 

  • Jack Freeman’s high bar. Freeman went 14.25 last weekend with a layout Tkatchev, a Kolman, and a straddle Tkatchev connected to a pike Tkatchev. 
  • Vitaliy Guimaraes’s vault. The senior unveiled an excellent Yurchenko 2.5 at Rocky Mountain for a 14.75. 
  • Zach Nunez’s pommel. Nunez won the horse title at Rocky Mountain with a square swing and elegant traveling elements. 

Illinois faced challenges in its win over Greenville last weekend after a commanding performance at Windy City the weekend prior. The Illini will be focused on getting back into the 66 region on horse after scoring only 61.3 on the event last weekend. Watch for Ian Skirkey to lead that horse effort. Routines to watch from the Illini include:

  • Skirkey’s horse. Skirkey is tied for first in the country on the event and competes a set comprising a full Kehr, full Stockli, and much more. 
  • Connor McCool’s floor. McCool is second in the country on the event and competes a 2.5-twisting double back, a triple connection pass, and a back 3.5. 
  • Ashton Anaya’s rings. The reigning Big Ten rings champ notched a career-high 14.45 last weekend. 

The Falcons came close to upsetting Michigan at Rocky Mountain and could challenge the Illini this Saturday if they manage to again score in the high 390s. Like Illinois, Air Force needs to clean up on pommel and try to approach the 65 mark on the event. The Falcons can also make up ground by improving on rings and repeating their strong showing on vault. Routines to watch from Air Force include: 

  • Erich Upton’s floor. The Freshman went 14.25 last weekend with a tucked triple-double opening pass. His is very likely the only triple-double you’ll see competed in the NCAA this year. 
  • Garrett Braunton’s high bar: Braunton won Rocky Mountain on the event after a well-executed set featuring a Cassina, Kolman, layout Tkatchev, straddle Tkatchev, and layout double-double. 
  • Oliver Zavel’s parallel bars. Zavel went 13.9 last weekend with a clean peach-half, Bhavsar, and double pike dismount. 

Cal @ Stanford

Stanford broke 420 at Rocky Mountain despite counting misses across a couple events. The Cardinal has outsize potential and the ability to go well beyond the 420 mark thanks to a significant advantage in difficulty score over the rest of the country. Stanford had world-class performances on pommel horse and vault, and the team will be looking to clean up somewhat on high bar this Saturday. Routines to watch from the Cardinal are legion. Here are some of them: 

  • The entire vault lineup. Asher Hong’s Ri Se Gwang, Zach Martin’s Kas 1.5, Khoi Young’s Yurchenko half-on, 1.5-off, and more. 
  • Ian Gunther’s pommel horse. Gunther was runner-up last weekend (in a tie with Hong) after performing a full Kehr, full Stockli, and scissor handstand. 
  • Riley Loos’ floor. Loos tied for second at Rocky Mountain with a big double pike and stellar non-acro skills. 
  • Hong’s parallel bars. Hong is No. 1 in the country and has a huge difficulty score of 6.1 with a routine that includes a Makuts, double front half out dismount, Bhavsar, and more. 

Cal didn’t compete last weekend but put up a 394.95 Week 2 — their second-best season opener in the modern era, according to Cal Athletics — despite counting a number of misses on high bar. The Bears have a real chance to hit the high 390s this weekend by executing better on high bar. Coach JT Okada said it best after the team’s season opener: “We can be very dangerous when we perform like this,” he said, adding, “We also had plenty of mistakes, so we have plenty of room to improve. That’s what is so exciting about this result.” Routines to watch from the Bears include: 

  • Noah Newfeld’s rings. He went 14.15 at the season-opener displaying a back uprise to straight planche, a straight-body press handstand, and a stuck layout double-double. 
  • Noah Sano’s pommel horse. Sano won the event Week 2 with a Roth, an E-flop late in the routine, and a fluid swing to handstand dismount. 
  • Yu-Chen Lee’s floor. Lee stuck his double-double opening pass on the way to a third place finish Week 2. 

William & Mary @ Navy

Navy earned a third-place finish last weekend behind Ohio State and Penn State after a good performance by the team’s younger members, head coach Kip Simon told Navy Athletics. Still, the Mids score at the Navy Open was about 8.5 points lower than their previous meet’s. The Mids will look to get back above 390 this weekend. Routines to watch from Navy include: 

  • Ronan McQuillan’s horse. He earned a third-place finish at the Navy Open with a 13.9. A video of that performance is unavailable, but here’s McQuillan earlier in the season
  • Connor Van Loo’s floor. Van Loo didn’t compete last weekend but put up a 14.05 on the event at West Point. 
  • Isaiah Drake’s vault, which earned him a 14.45 last weekend. 

The Tribe team is coming off a win over Springfield at the Navy Open after strong showings from Aiden Cuy, Christian Marsh, and others. William & Mary improved significantly last weekend on horse and vault. To challenge Navy, they’ll need to get into the 60s on horse and back above 61 on parallel bars. Routines to watch from William & Mary include: 

  • Marsh’s parallel bars. He went 13.85 last weekend after sticking his double front dismount. 
  • Ricky Pizem’s vault. He performed a clean Kas full last weekend for a 14.1. 
  • Evan Sikra’s high bar. We went 12.6 last weekend with a couple Tkatchevs and a stuck dismount. 

Army @ Springfield 

The Black Knights didn’t compete last weekend but had a strong team performance at home DURING Week 2, scoring 390.15 to come close to Navy. That said, Springfield was right on Army’s heels at West Point, so this Sunday’s rematch could be tightly contested. Army improved on every event except for parallel bars from Week 1 to Week 2. Routines to watch from Army include: 

  • Maddox Pabellon’s horse. He went 14.35 at the West Point Open finals with beautiful flop work for the event win
  • Jacob Nauman’s vault. He scored 14.35 Week 2 with a Kas full
  • Jackson Pophaul’s parallel bars. He earned a 13.65 at West Point with a clean healy and a stuck dismount. 

Springfield was only two points back from the Black Knights Week 2. They struggled at last weekend’s Navy Open, though, scoring more than 20 points less than the previous week. Springfield will be looking to rebound on horse and rings in particular and get back into the 60s on all events. Routines to watch from the Pride include: 

  • Felix Kriedemann’s floor. The sophomore placed fourth at Navy Open with a clean triple full dismount and strong connection work. 
  • Jaden Laubstein’s horse. He went 13.35 at West Point with a D flop, Roth, and Tong Fei. 
  • Jakarie Williams’ vault. Williams has a powerful Kas full that earned him a 14.3 at West Point.