On the surface, Stanford versus Michigan does not seem like much of a natural sports rivalry. The maize and blue of Michigan are lost in the frozen tundra of Big 10 country while the Cardinal soaks up the sun of the Pac-12. But on Saturday, both played roles as titans of the men’s gymnastics world in a clash that saw the No. 3 Wolverines overpower No. 2 Stanford from the beginning of the meet.
The loss was the first of the season for the Cardinal (4-1) in the preseason, and a bit surprising given the hot streak Stanford had been on with a win at the Stanford Open that featured victories over three top-10 opponents.
Michigan, however, was unimpressed.
With a crowd of 1,095 taking in the Wolverines’ home opener, Syque Caesar’s NCAA-record performance on the parallel bars was enough to counter several solid individual efforts for Stanford as Michigan won by 10.4 points.
On the rings, the only event the Card won on the night, seniors James Fosco and Jordan Nolff continued their dominance, scoring 15.200 and 15.100 respectively en route to a 1-2 finish, the duo’s third consecutive top-3 finish this season.
It would not be enough as the Wolverines were on their game from the get go.
The first event of the night for Stanford was the pommel horse, and while junior Chris Turner turned in a third-place score of 14.400, with senior John Martin just behind at 14.200, Stanford posted its lowest score on the event this season: 69.750.
That put the Card five points behind Michigan, which did quite well in its first rotation on the floor exercise. The Wolverines began the competition on floor, where Stacey Ervin paced the competition with a 15.40 to place first. Caesar followed with a career-high 15.25, and Adrian de los Angeles registered a score of 15.20 to help the Maize and Blue begin the night with a 74.75.
In its next event, floor exercise, the Cardinal received solid routines from Michael Levy, Jonathan Deaton and Paul Hichwa, with each scoring in the 14.000s. Levy led the group with a 14.800 and was followed by Deaton (14.550) and Hichwa (14.350). Unfortunately, the three performances weren’t enough, and the Cardinal tied its season-low team score on the event with a 70.600.
Deaton continued to contribute to the comeback cause on vault, delivering a new career-best of 14.800 to earn a fourth-place finish in the meet. The rest of the Cardinal scored in the low-to-mid 14.000s on the event, recording its highest team-score on an event to that point (72.650).
But then came the high bar, where Stanford struggled on the comeback trail. Led by seniors Cameron Foreman and Eddie Penev, who scored 14.400 and 14.150, respectively, Stanford recorded its lowest team-score of the meet with a 69.450.
In the meantime, Michigan went to town on the parallel bars, scoring a 74.50. On the parallel bars, Caesar posted an NCAA-record 15.90 score — besting the old record of 15.85 set by California’s Tim McNeill in 2008 — to record his second of two individual event titles. De los Angeles was close behind, putting up a score of 15.40 to place second.
But with victory likely out of reach, the Cardinal still ended its meet on a high note when its turn came on the parallel bars. Penev finished third with a new career-high score of 15.250 and Foreman finished tied for fourth with a 15.050.
Stanford will not compete as a team for four weeks, as six members of the Cardinal will compete in the Winter Cup Challenge — a competition hosted by USA Gymnastics to help determine the 15 men who will be selected for the U.S. Men’s Senior National Team. The Winter Cup Challenge will take place in Las Vegas on Feb. 7-9.
The team will return to action Feb. 17 at home for the Big Flip Off against rival California. The meet will be broadcast live on the Pac-12 Networks.
Contact Miles Bennett-Smith at email@example.com.