No. 2 Stanford men’s gymnastics (2-0) began its 2018 season on Saturday with a sweep of the Cal Benefit Cup as senior Robert Neff won the all-around, and the Cardinal claimed three individual and four team events. With 402.150 points, Stanford gymnasts across all class years performed consistently to top No. 10 Cal’s 398.850 and SC United’s 375.650.
Last weekend’s success comes in the notable absence of now-graduated Cardinal and national standout Akash Modi. Modi was last year’s NCAA all-around champion, a four-time MPSF Gymnast of the Year and former Olympic alternate.
In his wake, last year’s NCAA high bar champion Neff is expected to anchor the team in the all-around and his strongest events, high bar and floor, throughout his last season.
In the opening meet, Neff lived up to his expectations, not only seizing the all-around with an 82.850 but also leading his team on the floor and securing event titles on the high bar with a 14.200 as well as on the pommel horse.
Fellow freshman Thomas Lee exceeded expectations on rings, claiming the event title with a stellar 13.900, scoring ahead of freshman Andrew Bitner, who was predicted to lead the Cardinal in the event this season.
Sophomores Joey Ringer and David Jessen are expected to perform highest on pommel horse, although their respectable 12.000-range scores in the opening meet trailed Neff and Bitner’s 13.000-range executions.
Already displaying overall strength on vault, freshman Bryan Perla was a surprising standout in the opener, breaking a 14.000, although junior Barrett Weiss’ gravity-defying precision is expected to anchor the event in the year ahead.
On the parallel bars, sophomore Grant Breckenridge lived up to his seasonal expectations Saturday, leading the Cardinal in the event with world-class difficulty and angular discipline.
A former Czech Olympian, Jessen seems likely to dominate the high bar alongside Neff later in the season, although he struggled to keep up with his teammates’ performances in the opening meet.
Next weekend, the Cardinal heads to the midwest to face No. 8 Iowa and Illinois-Chicago on Jan. 21. While neither team poses a direct challenge to Stanford’s momentum, the travel will give freshmen the opportunity to experience the challenge of an away meet, a different time zone and very different temperatures.
The men’s team will return home to host the Stanford Open at the end of January, in which Cal and others will compete.
The first week of February will deliver an important and difficult opportunity, when the Cardinal travels to face No. 1 Oklahoma, the best gymnastics team in the country for three years running. If Stanford is able to keep up with the all-around champions and stay abreast of No. 3 Ohio State and No. 4 Illinois throughout the season, it will be in the running for nationals.
Later in February are the Pac-12 championships, where the Cardinal is favored to win, coming before a series of intercollegiate cups, a meet against Ohio State, MPSF championships and the NCAAs.
In advance of the busy and star-studded next few months, the Cardinal’s opening meet leaves them poised for great things.
Neff and his team’s all-around strength, especially that of underclassmen like freshmen Lee, Bitner and Perla and sophomores Jessen and Breckinridge, may well put the Cardinal on track for a sixth NCAA championship.
Contact Sylvie Ashford at sylviash ‘at’ stanford.edu.