2021 included many memorable moments for the men’s gymnastics program at Stanford. In April, the Cardinal captured their second-straight national championship in Minnesota after a season-peaking performance. Two months later, seniors Brody Malone and Ian Gunther, juniors Brandon Briones and Riley Loos and two former Cardinal gymnasts Akash Modi 17’ and Eddie Penev ’13 earned spots on the U.S. senior national team at the U.S. Championships.
Then, after the Olympic Trials, Malone booked an automatic spot in the U.S. Olympic team after placing on top of the leaderboard with Briones and Modi earning spots on the alternate team. In Tokyo, Malone finished fifth in the team competition, fourth on the horizontal bar and tenth in the all-around.
Malone’s season, however, did not end there. After recuperating from the Olympics, he traveled back to Japan — this time in Kitakyushu — to compete at the 2021 World Championships where he earned his first international medal, a bronze on the horizontal bar.
If one can take anything from the performances of Stanford gymnasts last year, it is that they are not to be taken lightly as an opponent in the 2022 season. As such, Stanford was ranked No. 1 by the pre-season coaches poll from the College Gymnastics Association.
The Cardinal took their No. 1 ranking into the first meet of the season at the Rocky Mountain Open in Colorado Springs, Colo. The Open was hosted by Air Force and featured two more top-five teams in No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 4 Nebraska.
Without the lack of experience in Malone, Gunther and Briones at the season opener, Stanford fell just 0.200 points short in claiming its first victory of the season, finishing behind Oklahoma.
“Like most teams, we were still piecemealing things together due to COVID protocols,” said head coach Thom Glielmi. “The guys who garnered spots on the lineup, especially in the first travel meet of the season, did a good job for the most part.”
In a program that places more emphasis on gymnasts that can compete in the all-around, true freshman Ian Lasic-Ellis got the call to do so at the first meet, placing fifth with a 79.300.
Several Cardinal earned individual event titles at the meet. True freshman Mark Berlaga tied with Sooner true freshman Fuzzy Benas for the still rings title, both earning a 14.200. Berlaga’s efforts earned him the CGA Specialist of the Week. Senior Thomas Lee finished right behind Berlaga and Benas with a 14.150.
Graduate student Blake Sun and senior Curran Phillips started out their campaigns the same way they did last season by claiming the parallel bars title with a 14.800 and the vault title with a 14.700, respectively. Phillips finished in third on parallel bars, three-tenths behind Sun.
Having not competed on the high bar last season, junior J.R. Chou snagged the high bar title with a 13.900, two-tenths over two Sooner gymnasts.
True freshman Khoi Young finished in third on the pommel horse behind the Giles brothers, Charlie and Cooper, from Nebraska.
This upcoming meet will provide a foundation for both the experienced upperclassmen and inexperienced freshman class to improve their endurance throughout the season and hopefully earn a third-straight national title.
“After losing to Oklahoma by two tenths at the Rocky Mountain Open, the guys realize that every tenth counts,” Glielmi said. “They need to be competing, not just out there doing gymnastics.”
Stanford will next compete in the Stanford Open against University of California, Berkeley, Oklahoma and members of the U.S. senior national team on Jan. 29 at 4 p.m. PT. The Stanford Open also provides an opportunity for gymnasts in the senior division to qualify for the U.S. Championships later this year.
With spectators now able to watch in-person athletic events, Glielmi believes the Stanford Open will showcase the Cardinal’s potential for the rest of the season.
“I think what will be most telling is the guys’ comfort level with the difficulty. However, we still have time to move forward,” Glielmi said.