The No. 2 Stanford men’s gymnastics will face its toughest opponent this season when No. 1 Oklahoma visits for the NCAA portion of the three-day Stanford Open at Burnham Pavilion on Saturday. The last time the two programs met was in April of 2019 when Stanford was celebrating the program’s first NCAA title since 2011 after halting the Sooner’s four-year title-winning streak. No. 12 Cal is also slated to compete.
The Cardinal was scheduled to have its first taste at formidable competition at the Windy City Invitational in Chicago last weekend, but bad weather in Chicago and no flights into the area on Friday forced Stanford to withdraw from the meet. The Cardinal instead competed in Berkeley for the second week in a row, routing Cal and No. 17 Air Force by sizable margins.
The team “was disappointed we didn’t have the opportunity to go up against some of the Big-10 teams, so it was a little lackluster going back to Cal,” said head coach Thom Glielmi. “So I think the team is really excited to take on Oklahoma.”
The Sooners own the highest average points scored in the country, with 411.050 points. Stanford follows in second, with an average of 404.575 through two competitions. The disparity, though, is merely a difference on paper. For Glielmi, he anticipates his team will push to score 420 points.
“We feel like we’re capable of that,” Glielmi said. “But it’s not the score that I’m going to use to determine if we’ve been successful — it’s how the guys approach the competition.”
After just two full weeks of competition, the reigning champs have already begun collecting weekly honors and accolades. Sophomore Brody Malone was named MPSF Gymnast of the Week and freshman Brandon Briones was named College Gymnastics Association Rookie of the Week for the second straight week after both athletes had particularly strong all-around performances in Berkeley last weekend. Malone captured the title with a score of 81.900, and Briones followed in second with 80.600.
Malone and Briones “are capable of contributing on every event,” said Glielmi. “It’s not just their ability to have some of the difficult routines or some great executions, but they are also consistent and dependable.”
Against a talented Oklahoma squad, Glielmi expects to have both of them compete in the all-around.
“We are always looking for who, on our roster, competes,” said Glielmi. “Some guys love to train, and they don’t show up that well. Some guys only show up in the competition, but they don’t make it to the competition because they didn’t show enough in training.”
“And then you have that guy who trains properly and is able to use the adrenaline to be that much better,” added Glielmi, who believes Malone and Briones both have that “intangible,” where they are able to use their adrenaline in competition to be “sharper, cleaner and stronger.”
Last year, Malone became the third freshman to win the NCAA All-Around title, helping Stanford erase a 4.40-point deficit and knock the four-time defending champions Oklahoma off the throne. The 2019 NCAA title marked the sixth national title in program history and third under Glielmi, who is in his 18th season at the helm of the program.
The Stanford Open is the first home meet of the year for the Cardinal, and the three-day meet is also an official qualifier for the Winter Cup Championships, which is a qualifying event to the 2020 U.S. Gymnastics Championships. At the U.S. Championships, athletes will have a chance to qualify for the 2020 Olympic Team Trials.
Since the meet is a qualifier for the Winter Cup, there will be a number of non-collegiate athletes seeking quality. They include Stanford alums Grant Breckenridge ’19 and Akash Modi ’17, who both have experience on the U.S. National team.
The NCAA portion of the Stanford Open between the Cardinal, Oklahoma and Cal begins Saturday at 7 p.m. in Burnham Pavilion.