By Arman Kassam
No. 2 Stanford men’s gymnastics heads off to Illinois today to compete in the qualifying session for the NCAA Finals. So far, Stanford has sustained a nearly immaculate season against some of the best teams in the nation.
But on April 6, the Cardinal came up just 1.95 points short of winning the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championship in Oklahoma, a victory that would have finally dethroned and defenestrated the diabolical Oklahoma Sooners, who just clinched their eighth-straight MPSF championship title. No. 1 Oklahoma, a team that ended with an overall score of 420.500, has won every competition and meet this season with no less than a 7-point margin. Stanford came in second at a monumental 418.550 points. No. 9 California and No. 13 Air Force took third and fourth place, distant from the top-two teams in the nation, all the way at 394.700 and 382.200 points, respectively.
Stanford’s second-place finish turned out to be bittersweet, and more sweet than bitter considering the individual accolades of the Cardinal gymnasts. Sophomore Blake Sun produced a 14.300-point performance on the parallel bars to eventually take second place in the event. Freshman Curran Phillips and redshirt senior Jacob Barrus shared third place on the bars at 14.050 points. Graduate student Ryan Sheppard won third place in high bar and clinched a season-best 13.600 points on the pommel horse. Freshman Brody Malone earned a second place overall finish at the tournament with a total of 84.050 points, matching Oklahoma’s Levi Anderson and only remaining behind the Sooners’ Yul Moldauer, who was able to tally up an incredible 87.700 points. Cardinal senior Grant Breckenridge, a finalist for the Nissen-Emery Award, came in at fourth place with 83.050 points. Overall, Stanford ended up with 65.350 points for pommel, 70.000 points for high bar, 71.300 points on the floor, 71.100 points on rings, 70.800 points for vault and 70.000 points on the parallel bars; the Cardinal became the only team this season to receive 70.000 or better on five events in a single competition.
“We did manage to stay in it throughout the meet for the most part,” said Head Coach Thom Glielmi. “We realize that we are within striking distance of Oklahoma and are motivated and excited moving forward into the NCAA Championships.”
Malone has become the talk of the town as he came into the MPSF Championships ranked first in the nation, averaging a whopping 84.283 points. Malone also broke into the 85-point club on March 30 when the Cardinal extirpated Cal in a glorious 417.400-396.150 victory. Malone won the vault (14.650), parallel bars (14.550) and high bar (14.050 and shared first place on the floor (14.300) while placing third on the pommel (13.900) and fourth in still rings (13.800) to make for a jaw-dropping overall score of 85.250 points – quite a feat for any gymnast — let alone a first-year.
A native of Summerville, Georgia and a former competitive rodeo rider, Malone has been duly recognized for his consummate acrobatics. The freshman has been decorated as a two-time CGA National Gymnast of the Week, a four-time CGA National Rookie of the Week and a three-time MPSF Gymnast of the Week, and after the tournament in Oklahoma, Malone added MPSF Gymnast of the Year to that list.
“Brody’s scope of work over the course of the season definitely got noticed,” Glielmi said. “He’s done the work for our team, and I couldn’t be happier that he has been honored with the Gymnast of the Year award.” Adding on to the precedent of excellence, Glielmi was named MPSF Coach of the Year after the competition in Oklahoma.
As for the road ahead, Stanford has to pass a qualifying session at the University of Illinois today before it can claim a spot on the championship field. The Cardinal (which qualified with a score of 418.025) will share the mat with No. 3 Michigan (410.863), No. 4 Minnesota (406.525), No. 8 Nebraska (404.638), No. 7 Navy (400.738) and California (398.788). Oklahoma is the leading contender in the other qualifying session with No. 5 Illinois (410.125), No. 6 Penn State (409. 138), No. 10 Iowa (403.350), No. 11 Ohio State (402.550) and No. 12 Army West Point (395.100). Only the top three teams of each of the two sessions (in addition to the top three all-around competitors not on a qualifying team) will advance to the championships at Illinois, which will take place tomorrow, Saturday, April 20.
Stanford’s last national championship victory came at the hands of legendary Cardinal gymnasts like Alex Buscaglia, who clinched a national title for the high bar in 2011. Since then, the Cardinal has come close to adding to their five national titles, having finished second in the 2015 and 2016 tournaments and fourth in the 2017 and 2018 tournaments. The Cardinal has appeared at every NCAA Championship since 1999.
Catch the qualifying session in Illinois today, April 19, at 11:00 a.m. PST. The NCAA Finals will begin at 4:00 p.m. PST on Saturday, April 20.
Contact the Arman Kassam at armank ‘at’ stanford.edu