Head coach Mark Williams knew all the Sooners would need was a decent afternoon of gymnastics. Depending on your definition of 'decent,' one could say that Oklahoma's 432.2 qualifies. That score was enough for Williams and co. to take down Stanford (426.85), Cal (410.1) and Air Force (402.9) en route to their 11th MPSF title in the last 13 years.
Even though they hoisted the trophy at the end of the day, Williams knows his Sooners have more in the tank. "Overall I'm pleased that we were the best team on that day and I'm definitely proud of my team, but I don't know if we were as good as we have been in some respects in practice," commented Williams.
It's amazing that a team fresh off a conference title and the fifth-best score in the NCAA this year could be disappointed -- but that's the mark of a team that knows you can't get complacent.
"Afterwards I sat them down and said we do have to be better. We have to compete a little bit more confident knowing that any team can get hot on any given day." - Mark Williams
Regardless of the room for improvement, the Sooners still impressed in so many areas last weekend. Sophomore sensation Yul Moldauer fell just short of winning the AA with a gaudy 87.6. As a team the Sooners claimed the second-highest team scores in the NCAA this season on SR, VT & PB.
Individually they ended the day with three conference champions: Moldauer on FX, SR & PB, Matt Wenske on VT and Levi Anderson on HB. All three have a very real chance to win those same events at NCAA's. Check out some highlights of the Sooners' day here.
Now just a week from attempting a three-peat, I asked Williams what makes this team different from the last two: "I don't know if I've had a team go through the regular season feeling like we could beat teams that unequivocally. We have higher start values and if we have good consistency throughout we can sometimes come away with double-digit victories."
You might be able to say Oklahoma is the favorites at next week's competition in West Point...
Akash Modi's AA title and second 88 of the season couldn't move the needle enough for Stanford. They picked up team wins on FX & HB but had a few costly mistakes on PH.
Modi scored his second-best AA of the season, an 88.0.
Standout days outside of Modi came from Robert Neff (14.375 four-event average), Taylor Seaton (14.4 four-event average) and Josiah Eng who went 15.1 on SR.
I still wouldn't count this team out for NCAA's. Both their top scoring outputs of the year have now come against the Sooners. It would take a few errors from Oklahoma, but head coach Thom Glielmi clearly has his team ready when it matters most.
The job done by Modi, however, should not be overlooked. The performance cemented his place in history as the only four-time MPSF Gymnast of the Year. We all get to watch him compete one more time as an NCAA gymnast at next week's NCAA Championships.
The team that exceeded expectations the most at MPSF's was the Cal Golden Bears. 410.1 marked their season-high by just under three points. Leading the charge were a pair of usual suspects, Aaron Mah & Yordan Aleksandrov, both of whom posted season-bests in the AA (Mah - 82.75, Aleksandrov - 82.35).
Mah finished 5th in the AA for the Bears (Photo courtesy of calbears.com)
Another name to note was Michael Rauchwerger. Rauchwerger ended the night as Cal's leading scorer on PH (13.5) & VT (14.35) and also contributed a 13.6 on FX.
I'd be remiss not to talk about the job done by Cal on PH. They entered the meet averaging a 62.255 on the event but blew that number out of the water to the tune of a season-high 66.05. That in itself should be considered a win for the Bears.
Rounding out the field was Air Force who had a strong day of their own. Tim Wang led the way for the Falcons with an 84.3 in the AA and a conference-winning 14.75 on PH.
Air Force kept pace with Cal outside of PB, which was their undoing, as they scored just a 65.2.
Team, AA and event winners (4 out of 8 correct predictions from conference preview):
Team: Oklahoma Sooners (Predicted a 5 point win for OK; they won by 5.35)
AA: Akash Modi, STAN
FX: Yul Moldauer, OK
PH: Tim Wang, AF (Prediction: Allan Bower, OK)
SR: Yul Moldauer, OK (Prediction: Josiah Eng, STAN)
VT: Matt Wenske, OK
PB: Yul Moldauer, OK (Prediction: Akash Modi, STAN)
HB: Levi Anderson, OK (Prediction: Robert Neff, STAN)
Back-To-Back B1G Champions (Photo courtesy of @OhioState_MGYM on Twitter)
Before heading into the last event of the night (PH) Ohio State head coach Rustam Sharipov did a live interview with the Big Ten Network. Sharipov was asked how it felt to be back-to-back B1G champs. He responded saying he wasn't thinking about that yet because they were heading to PH where anything can happen.
Luckily for the Buckeyes, PH isn't an event where they get many surprises as they ranked second in the NCAA. Also going for them was the fact that they owned a 3+ point lead over second place Illinois. "Going into Big Tens, as a coaching staff, we talked about how before our last event, pommel horse, we needed to have a cushion," commented Sharipov.
The cushion was barely needed. There was one small hiccup with Alec Yoder's dismount, but five routines later and Ohio State (418.6) was yet again the B1G champions. They defeated, in order: Illinois (416.4), Minnesota (413.3), Penn State (411.2), Nebraska (410.0), Iowa (402.15) and Michigan (401.25).
"Some of the guys got experience from last year and the return of Jake Martin was a huge help from us," Sharipov said. "Compared to last year, we were even better."
Similar to his team, Sean Melton ended the night going back-to-back after winning the AA with an 85.05.
The titles didn't stop there. At individual event finals, Jake Martin edged out Cory Paterson of Iowa to win the B1G HB title with a score of 14.375. The Buckeyes also claimed runner-up finishes on three events including SR (Melton - 14.6), VT (Seth Delbridge - 14.925) and PB (Yoder & Jake Dastrup - 14.3).
Martin edged Paterson (Iowa) and Bull (ILL) on HB (Photo: Jess Frankl)
For the third-straight year Illinois stood on the podium as the second-place finisher in the B1G. It was a night for the Illini that at times felt like they would finally break through, but a rough PH rotation proved costly. Listen to head coach Justin Spring's thoughts on the meet:
The Illini ended the night with meet-high team scores on SR (tie w/OSU), VT, PB & HB. That just goes to show how costly three falls on one event (PH) can be in five-up/five-count.
It's not the meet they wanted to win, but the Illini came out angry during event finals with individuals winning three events -- and almost a fourth & fifth. Brandon Ngai won PH (14.825) after finishing runner-up in 2016, Alex Diab claimed his second-consecutive SR title (14.875) and Johnny Jacobson swooped in as the last routine on PB (14.55) to win.
The big story of that night for the Illini was the ruling of no stick for Alex Diab on FX which was the difference between first and second. Spring & associate head coach Daniel Ribeiro placed an inquiry but it was denied. Whether it was or wasn't a stick, it may benefit gymnastics as a whole to take a longer look into what exactly constitutes a stick.
Claiming the last spot on the podium in third were the Minnesota Golden Gophers. It wasn't an ideal night for Mike Burns and his team, but finishing just five points out of first on a less-than-perfect night is a good sign.
Justin Karstadt finished fifth in the AA with an 80.9 and other guys like Tristan Duran (13.93 three-event average) and Joel Gagnon (13.94 four-event average) contributed solid nights.
Minnesota did end their weekend with a B1G champion on FX as Alex Wittenberg won the event with a 14.55. Others placing in the top-three on their events were Karstadt who tied for second on PH (14.6) and Yaroslav Pochinka who placed third on VT (14.75).