No. 1 Stanford men’s gymnastics (14-1, 11-1 MPSF) broke new ground at one of the most opportune times this season at the MPSF Championships. The only team to crack 420.000 in the NCAA this season, the Cardinal claimed its first MPSF Championship title in 10 years with a team score of 424.250.
No. 3 Oklahoma (15-2, 7-2 MPSF) had previously held the title for nine years straight. Unfortunately, the Sooners could not make it double digits, finishing runner-up to the Cardinal with a team score of 417.300.
The battle for third place came between No. 8 California (6-8, 3-8 MPSF) and No. 13 Air Force (5-17, 0-9 MPSF) with the Golden Bears edging out the Falcons 392.400 to 388.050.
“Today was a really good echo of what we have been doing in the gym,” said freshman Taylor Burkhart. “I am really happy with how the team did because we brought what we have been doing in the gym onto the floor.”
“It was my first competition representing Stanford, so I was extremely excited to compete and have my brothers and coach support me,” Burkhart added.
The top-seeded Cardinal opened their campaign on their highest-scoring event, the vault. Burkhart stuck his vault to earn a 14.850, leading all gymnasts in the competition. Senior Bryan Perla capped off the rotation with another stuck landing, finishing 0.05 points behind Burkhart.
As a team, the Cardinal broke their previous season-high of 73.500, scored three weeks ago at the dual meet against the Golden Bears, with a 73.550. This was an optimal start for the Cardinal, as they held a 2-point lead over the Sooners heading into the second rotation.
“We definitely want to start on good footing and build from there,” said head coach Thom Glielmi about starting on the vault. “We like starting on vault, but it does not matter which event we start on.”
“It matters that they are prepared and getting the competition off on the right foot,” Glielmi said.
The second rotation for the Cardinal featured the parallel bars, another event where the team is top-ranked nationally. Freshman Ian Lasic-Ellis kicked off Stanford’s run on the bars with a strong 13.600. Sophomore Colt Walker led the field with a highly difficult and cleanly executed routine that earned a 14.900 for the second straight meet.
However, some uncharacteristic form breaks in the latter half of the rotation resulted in the Cardinal’s lowest team score of the season: a 69.300. But even with these slip-ups, Stanford increased its lead over Oklahoma to 2.550 points.
The Cardinal closed out the first half of the meet on the high bar, their lowest-ranked event in the regular season. However, the prior mistakes on the previous rotation did not steer away their momentum. In the lead-off spot, junior J.R. Chou stuck his landing to put up a 13.350, followed by a 13.500 from Walker.
Senior Brody Malone then showed why he won a gold medal on the high bar at the Cottbus World Cup in Germany. Clean connections and high difficulty earned Malone an event title and a career-high 15.150. Senior Ian Gunther capped off the rotation with a 13.900 that gave Stanford a season-high 69.350, a complete turnaround from the team’s performance on the parallel bars.
As a result, the Cardinal stretched their lead to 3.700 points over the Sooners at the halfway mark of the competition.
The second half of the meet started on the floor exercise for Stanford. After a fall from four-time CGA Rookie of the Week freshman Khoi Young at the beginning of the rotation, four Cardinal gymnasts earned scores of 14.450 or higher, led by career highs from Perla (14.800) and Walker (14.700).
With Oklahoma also counting a fall in their rotation, Stanford only lost one-tenth of a point of its lead.
The Cardinal entered the fifth rotation on the infamous pommel horse. To ease the nerves, experience kicked off this rotation with graduate student Blake Sun posting a career-high 14.050. Malone and Young ended the rotation by adding scores of 14.000 and 14.600, respectively, to increase Stanford’s lead over Oklahoma to over 4 points.
The Cardinal ended their MPSF Championships on the still rings. Still rings specialist and freshman Mark Berlaga started the final rotation with a stuck landing, recording a 14.300. Gunther led the field with a 14.700, and senior Thomas Lee ended the meet with a 14.250 to end Oklahoma’s streak of nine straight MPSF Championship titles.
“The team did well, and we definitely have room to improve,” Glielmi said after the meet. “What I was most pleased with is that we did not have a lull on the fifth and sixth events. A bunch of guys stepped up and took care of business.”
Malone claimed the all-around title with an 85.950, and Burkhart finished in third with an 83.750. Oklahoma freshman Fuzzy Benas was wedged in between Malone and Burkhart with an 84.700.
“I thought of every routine I was doing for the team and the team score,” Burkhart said. “I felt the same amount of pressure that I have been having in practices, which I was really pleased with.”
Stanford continues to improve this season and produce its best routines at the right time. The Cardinal will have two weeks of rest before heading to Norman, Okla., to compete in the NCAA Championships on April 15-16.
The first day of competition consists of two qualifying meets with the top three teams in each meet advancing to the finals. The second day of competition will then determine the NCAA champions in the team and individual events.
“We are going to push the next two weeks for NCAAs,” Burkhart said.
If this meet was any indication of their preparation for the rest of the postseason, the top-ranked Cardinal are clear favorites heading into the NCAA Championships, and a third straight national championship for men’s gymnastics could be coming home to the Farm in a couple of weeks’ time.