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Men’s gymnastics seeks first national title since 2011

The No. 4 Stanford men’s gymnastics team (8-4) will begin competition at the NCAA Championships in Ann Arbor, Mich. today as it seeks to bring home the sixth national title in program history and its first since 2011.

(HECTOR GARCIA-MOLINA/stanfordphoto.com)

All-American redshirt senior Paul Hichwa (above) scored a career high to 15.450 on the high bars to win the MPSF title before heading to NCAAs. (HECTOR GARCIA-MOLINA/stanfordphoto.com)

After a second-place finish at the MPSF Championships behind only No. 1 Oklahoma on March 29, the Cardinal will be looking to finish in the top three of the first session in order to advance to Friday’s team finals. Standing in the Cardinal’s way of doing that, however, is a tough field consisting of Oklahoma, No. 5 Illinois, No. 8 Iowa, No. 9 California and No. 12 William and Mary.

The last time Stanford faced both Illinois and Iowa was in last year’s NCAA Championships, when the Cardinal finished third, ahead of both the Illini and Hawkeyes, which finished sixth and fifth respectively.

Although top-ranked Oklahoma got the better of Stanford at the MPSFs two weekends ago, the Cardinal have shown themselves capable of toppling the top team in the nation. They did just that in early February at the Metroplex Challenge, when they defeated the Sooners 445.150-442.400 to bounce back from a defeat a week earlier. Stanford and Oklahoma have met three times this season, with the Sooners emerging on top twice. Stanford and Cal have also met in four meets this year, with the Cardinal edging the Golden Bears in all four.

Leading the Cardinal charge into the NCAAs will be freshman sensation Akash Modi, who won MPSF Gymnast of the Year honors after a tremendous first collegiate season in which he claimed a pair of MPSF titles in the all-around and parallel bars as he led the team with 13 individual victories. He will look to be the next all-around force on the team after the graduation of Eddie Penev ’13 and will try to replicate Penev’s success at the national level.

Outside of Modi, the rest of the Cardinal squad has also been very solid, leading to top-5 national rankings in the pommel horse (5th), rings (3rd), vault (4th), parallel bars (2nd) and high bar (2nd).

Fifth-year senior Paul Hichwa was a significant part of the Cardinal’s success on high bar as he claimed an MPSF title in the event with a career-high 15.450. He will look to improve on his 14.300 at the NCAA Semifinals last season, which placed him ninth and was significantly below his season average in the event.

Success on rings will also not be a problem if sophomore Dennis Zaremski can carry through his success from the MPSFs into the NCAAs. At the conference championships, Zaremski finished as the runner-up in the rings with a career-high 16.150, which would have been good enough to win the individual national title in the event last year.

Senior Michael Levy on floor, senior Sean Senters on vault and junior Brian Knott will also be looking to build off of strong performances at the conference championships to propel the Cardinal to a Friday final berth.

With a top-three finish in today’s semifinals, Stanford would advance to a tough final that will likely include defending national champion No. 2 Michigan, to whom the Cardinal have already suffered a defeat to earlier this season at home. The first session of the NCAA Championships will begin at 10 a.m., with the finals to take place at 4 p.m. tomorrow and the individual finals set to start at 4 p.m. on Saturday.

Contact Do-Hyoung Park at dpark027 ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Do-Hyoung Park

Do-Hyoung Park is the Head Copy Editor at The Stanford Daily. Even though he is finally able to get into R-rated movies now, he instead chooses to spend his time writing half the sports section every week. Do-Hyoung is a sophomore originally from Seoul, South Korea and raised in Saint Paul, Minnesota pursuing a major in chemical engineering. To contact him, please email him at dpark027 'at' stanford.edu.