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#NCAAMGym Conference Championships Recap Oklahoma Repeats, Navy & Illinois Are Back On Top

Baker Steps Up; Illini Win First B1G Title Since 2012

(photo: Jess Frankl)

Finishing in second for three years in a row can be a heck of a motivator. Take Oklahoma for example: three-straight years of raising a runner-up trophy at NCAA's has led to three-straight years of raising a championship trophy.

We don't know if the same fate (winning three in a row) awaits the Fighting Illini, but we do know that they've broken through their own string of second-place finishes to win the 2018 B1G Championship.

(graphic via @IlliniMGym on Twitter)

What it took was a herculean effort from Bobby Baker, somebody who was virtually counted out of this competition after suffering an ankle injury three weeks ago. Nonetheless, there he was doing six events for his team, including a stuck vault and a handful of other cleanly hit routines. Baker ended up with a season-high 83.0, earning him a third place finish in the all-around.

As a team, it didn't feel like the Illini had a grip on the competition until they arrived at their fifth event, high bar. It was there that they hit routine after routine, sending their corral into a frenzy that led up to a Tyson Bull crescendo.

Said head coach Justin Spring (B1G Coach of the Year) to FightingIllini.com after the meet, "this [championship] is different. I won my first couple championships as a very new head coach and it took losing the last five years to know how special that was. This one is on a whole other level."

Illinois Event Final Top-Five Finishes:

Sebastian Quiana: FX - 5th

Brandon Ngai: PH - 3rd

Alex Diab: SR - Champion

Alex Diab won his third B1G SR title in a row (photo: Jess Frankl)

Bobby Baker: SR - 2nd

Chandler Eggleston: HB - Champion

Chandler Eggleston won the B1G HB title by just over a tenth of a point (photo: Jess Frankl)

Ross Thompson: HB - 5th

All the credit in the world is due to Michigan (408.6) who was a contender all the way up to their final event. To go from back-to-back seventh place finishes to runner-up speaks volumes -- not just of their entire team -- but the freshman class in particular. On Friday night, rookies accounted for eight scores of 13.5+.

Leading the young group was Cameron Bock (82.8) whose impressive showing earned him fourth place (all-around) and First-Team All-B1G/NCAA Rookie of the Week honors.

(graphic via @UMichGym on Twitter)

The Wolverines won a whopping four events (FX, PH, SR, VT) as a team on the day. Their 72.65 on VT registered as the seventh best we've seen across the NCAA in 2018.

Michigan Event Final Top-Five Finishes:

Jacob Moore: FX - 5th

Cameron Bock: SR - 4th, HB - 4th

Dmitri Belanovski: SR - 5th

Emyre Cole: VT - 4th

Anthony McCallum: VT - 5th

If we're giving credit for surprising, let's keep things rolling with the third place Penn State Nittany Lions (406.35). Randy Jepson's team rode a pair of great rotations on SR & PB to finish well above their regular season conference ranking of sixth.

"Well fought meet tonight, we were in the hunt but fell a little short,” Jepson told GoPSUSports.com. “I was pleased with the effort from our guys, their enthusiasm, and their passion."

Leading the charge were two all-around competitors, freshman Brennan Pantazis (78.05) & Sam Zakutney (77.15). Aside from PH & SR, Zakutney put together a very impressive 13.85 four-event average. This was his first all-around performance since Jan. 27.

Sam Zakutney (photo via @PennStateMGYM on Twitter)

Penn State Event Final Top-Five Finishes:

Brennan Pantazis: FX - Champion

Pantazis was the lone freshman winner at B1G's (photo: Jess Frankl)

Stephen Nedoroscik: PH - Champion

Nedoroscik is now an NCAA & B1G PH champion (photo: Jess Frankl)

Greg Tamargo: SR - 3rd

Sam Zakutney: PB - 4th

Despite Sean Melton (84.45 - B1G Gymnast of the Championships) and Alec Yoder (84.3) going 1-2 in the all-around, Ohio State (405.6) placed outside of the top-three at B1G's for the first time since 2015.

Nonetheless, those two were remarkable for the Buckeyes. Between them both, there was only one score below a 13.6 on Friday night -- that being a 13.1 from Melton on PH.

Melton & Yoder dominated (photo: Jess Frankl)

As a team, the struggles came near the start of the meet. FX & PH (sixth on both) put OSU in a hole that would've been nearly impossible to climb out of. "It was a rough start for us on the first three events," said Rustam Sharipov to OhioStateBuckeyes.com. "We picked it up and felt like ourselves. We're disappointed in our performance as a team but it's great for us to have the top two all-arounders."

The Buckeyes did crush the rest of the field on PB; they were the only team to post multiple 14+ scores on the event.

Ohio State Event Final Top-Five Finishes:

Alec Yoder: PH - 2nd, PB - 5th

Needless to say, the trip to Ann Arbor didn't go as planned for fifth place Minnesota (405.45). That event everybody loves so much, PH, was the eventual undoing for the Gophers as they posted their second-lowest total of the year, a 63.4.

There were some bright spots on Friday night, however. First of all, Tristan Duran put together an 82.0 which was enough to earn him a top-five all-around finish. The New Jersey-native didn't register a single score below 13.15. Shane Wiskus (B1G Gymnast/Freshman of the Year) also competed all six to the tune of an 80.75

(graphic via @GopherMGym)
(graphic via @GopherMGym)

They were also their usual selves on FX, ending up as one of only two teams (the other being Nebraska) to record five scores of 13.6+.

"It wasn’t quite what we expected,” said Mike Burns to GopherSports.com. "Fifth place is hard to swallow. It’s painful, but there’s a lot of fuel in that pain. We have to use this to fuel our next stage."

Expect a motivated Minnesota team at NCAA's.

Minnesota Event Final Top-Five Finishes:

Vitali Kan: PH - 4th

Tristan Duran: PB - Co-Champion

Tristan Duran brought home a B1G for Minnesota (photo: Jess Frankl)

Jalon Stephens: HB - 2nd

Shane Wiskus: HB - 3rd

You don't realize how tightly-packed 3-6 was until you consider that sixth place Nebraska (404.75) was just 1.6 out of third. I talked about the Huskers' SR leading up to the championships, and it was the event that kept them off the podium. Their 64.15 had them six tenths behind the next best team.

A pair of usual suspects, Anton Stephenson & Jake Bonnay, stepped up with big nights. They combined for five top-seven finishes during team finals.

Also, I haven't gone in depth on event finals for other teams, but it's worth noting that Nebraska qualified three (Bonnay, Stephenson & Kyle King) into VT finals and all three stuck it cold to finish 1-2-3 on Saturday evening. Here's a very cool video of Bonnay's VT.

Nebraska Event Final Top-Five Finishes:

Anton Stephenson: VT - Champion, PB - Co-Champion, FX - t2nd

Stephenson's Saturday night summed up in one photo (photo: Jess Frankl)

Jake Bonnay: FX - t2nd, VT - 2nd

Kyle King: VT - 3rd

Daniel Leal: PB - 3rd

Tough rotations on FX & HB left the Iowa Hawkeyes (398.55) just short of the 400-mark. It was a great night for freshman Bennet Huang (80.3) whose name should be mentioned right alongside Wiskus & Bock in terms of standout rookies.

Bennet Huang placed seventh AA at B1G's (photo via HawkeyeSports.com)

Another positive was the continued production on PH. The Hawkeyes finished just .15 out of first place on the event as they were led by Austin Hodges (14.25) & Elijah Parsells (13.6).

Iowa Event Final Top-Five Finishes:

Austin Hodges: PH - 5th

Oklahoma Rides Moldauer's 86.9 To Seventh MPSF Title In A Row

(photo via @OU_MGymnastics on Twitter)

Yul Moldauer was his usual self plus a little more as the Oklahoma Sooners (414.05) won another MPSF title at Air Force on Saturday (highlights here).

"I'm pleased we got another championship," Mark Williams explained to SoonerSports.com. "The guys did what they had to do to keep momentum going and finish well. I'm pleased with the results but we are not done yet."

Moldauer's numbers from Saturday (via RoadToNationals.com)

Five of those above scores (AA, FX, PH, SR & PB) stood as the highest of the meet. The junior was on another level, but amazingly enough, the score did not represent his best of the year. Williams talked about Moldauer, saying, "he kind of had to grind through a little bit. I'm happy with his performance. We wanted to be cautious with him coming back from injury. Even with less preparation this week, he still elevated the team. He set the pace for everyone to follow."

Moldauer was dubbed MPSF Gymnast of the Year (graphic via @OU_MGymnastics on Twitter)

He wasn't the only Sooner gymnast to have a good day. His teammates, Genki Suzuki (80.9) & Levi Anderson (80.7) captured second and third place in the all-around while sophomore Tanner Justus grabbed the MPSF VT title with his 14.85.

Suzuki (left), Moldauer (middle) and Anderson (right) on the all-around podium (photo via @OU_MGymnastics on Twitter)

As Williams (who was named MPSF Coach of the Year) mentioned, the Sooners aren't done seeking improvement. "We still have some areas that can be better. We will get back in the gym and turn our attention to nationals."

Until then, Oklahoma can enjoy being King of the MPSF for another year.

Second place at MPSF's belonged to the Stanford Cardinal (404.15). If you average out the last four events (SR, VT, PB & HB), Stanford was on pace for a 413.4; it was FX (65.3) & PH (63.25) where they lost the majority of ground on the Sooners.

(graphic via @StanfordMGym on Twitter)

The Cardinal's lone all-around competitor on the day, Ryan Sheppard (79.0), got himself three top-eight individual finishes on FX, SR & PB. MVP candidate Robert Neff was also very good, accumulating a 13.86 four event average. That included a second-place tie on HB with teammate David Jessen.

In my conference preview I mentioned the up-and-down season that Cal has been having. Luckily for the Golden Bears, Saturday was much more up than down with the team scoring a 393.65 to take third.

Cal's highlight of the weekend came on HB where Yordan Aleksandrov (coming in ranked fifth in the MPSF on the event) bested the field with a 14.4. This was the senior's first-ever conference title.

(graphic via @CalMGym on Twitter)

That score was one part of his 79.25 all-around day, good enough to place him fifth behind teammate, Aaron Mah (79.7).

"I am so proud of the way this team came together and worked tirelessly the entire meet," head coach JT Okada told CalBears.com. "Not only that, but this entire season has been grueling and we've fought hard to show what we stand for and represent Cal well. These gymnasts have a tremendous spirit and as a coach that's really fun to watch."

Air Force was oh so close to a top-three finish (1.1 behind Cal), something they haven't been able to do at MPSF's in the 2000's. For the second meet in a row, Jonah Urlaub stepped up for the Falcons, putting in an admirable all-around performance (78.8). That included a pair of top-five finishes on FX & VT.

Others to place top-five were Fletcher Braunton (SR) & Scott McMurray (PH).

Navy Captures Second ECAC Title In Three Years

The Navy Midshipmen are your 2018 ECAC Champions (photo via NavySports.com)

In a championship meet, so much comes down to how you start. Sure, you can come back from a rough first event, but it's a whole lot easier if you aren't starting on a sour note. That was not the case for the Navy Midshipmen (405.55) as they cruised to the program's first outright conference title (they tied Army in 2016) since 1989.

Final standings from the ECAC team finals (graphic via RoadToNationals.com)

The hot start came on VT where the Mids had their highest team score of the year (71.75) by one full point. "We started off on vault and had a high score of the season and never looked back from that point on," head coach Kip Simons told NavySports.com.

It was Lucas Beltran (14.8) & Frank Bradley (14.55) who finished 1-2 on the event.

It wasn't long before Navy decided it was time for another season-high. The Mids caught absolute fire on HB, going off for a 69.55. That would've registered as the third best regular season team score across the entire NCAA. They filled the podium, finishing with five of the top six competitors. Ben Provost left as the winner, eclipsing the 14-mark (14.2) for the first time in his young career.

(photo via NavySports.com)

Navy had one more dominant event left in the tank as they won PH by 1.4. Fittingly, the guy who's been rock-solid all year long, freshman David Toussaint, kept things going. He tied William & Mary's Jacopo Gliozzi for the conference title with a 13.9. The final title winner for Navy was Tanner West who tied W&M's Griffin Antle for the PB crown with a 13.85.

"Today's results were a culmination of hard work, sacrifice and preparation," continued Simons. "We are peaking at the right time as we head into the NCAA meet in two weeks in Chicago."

Just seven routines on Saturday came from juniors & seniors. Needless to say, the ECAC might rest in the hands of Navy for the foreseeable future.

Finishing as runner-up was William & Mary (399.85) who had their best day of the 2018 season. It marked the first time all year that the Tribe have gone 65+ on all six events.

(graphic via @WMTribeMGYM on Twitter)

They were winners of two events as a team: FX & SR. They claimed the top-two spots on the prior event, with freshman Cutter Fugett finishing at a 14.2 and his teammate, Juan Palma, just behind him with a 14.15. SR, on the other hand, was won by Jeremiah McReynolds whose 13.75 counted as his second best effort of the year.

The lone all-around competitor for W&M was Jack Hasenkopf who cracked the top-five with his 75.55.

The other two Tribe event winners, as previously mentioned, were Gliozzi (PH) & Antle (PB); both of whom tied for their event leads. Antle brought another accolade back to Williamsburg as he was named the 2018 Senior Gymnast of the Year.

The Tribe earned a trio of honors from David Watkins, Antle and first-year coach Bo Morris (graphic via @WMTribeMGYM)

Third place at ECAC's belonged to the Army Black Knights (389.3). Their day was highlighted by a third place all-around finish from Cole Casanova (77.6). As a team, Army had a strong showing on VT as evidenced by placing three gymnasts in the top-five; those being Alejandro Tombrink (14.45), Erik Del Cid (14.4) & Ryan Wilson (14.35).

On the flip side, the Knights ran into a lot of trouble on SR where they came away with their lowest score of the year (60.75).

Consistency has been a problem for Springfield all season, but on Saturday the Pride were able to secure a score (384.7) above their season average. Most of the damage was done by sophomore Stephen Lewis (79.45) who I'm sure will remember this weekend for the rest of his life. Lewis became the first Pride gymnast since 1932 to win the conference all-around title.

(graphic via @SC_Pride on Twitter)

It should also be mentioned that Joshua Dieker earned runner-up honors in the all-around with a 78.1. He was the highest individual finisher on an event for Springfield with his third place effort on SR.

Last, but certainly not least, was the performance put together by the Pride's third all-around competitor, Chris Graff (77.1). He was the team's top scorer on both FX & PH.

Rounding out the field with their absolute best performance of the season were the UIC Flames (377.25). What an encouraging way to end the season for the young team. We may have seen the breakout of freshman Sam Montague who put together an all-around score of 75.4. His previous high for the year? A 68.9. Montague's 13.85 on FX was good enough to place him fourth.

In addition to the freshman, Satchel Hudson (74.95) & Asad Jooma (72.9) did heavy lifting for the Flames.

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Unless otherwise noted, photos belong to Jess Frankl

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