Stanford men are hoping to defend NCAA gymnastics title
Despite being undefeated during the regular season, Cardinal must overcome a No. 4 seed and reach finals on Friday to have a chance for a repeat
The defending NCAA national champion Stanford men's gymnastics team, despite finishing the regular season undefeated, weren't favored when the NCAA preliminaries got underway Thursday night at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point. That honor belonged to Illinois.
Stanford slipped into the fourth seed after finishing third at the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation finals earlier in the month. The Cardinal enters the NCAA meet with a season average of 354.480. Illinois, Oklahoma and Michigan are the top three qualifiers.
Stanford was a heavy favorite to advance into Friday's finals, however, and likely will have a say in determining which school goes home the winner. Being the defending champ does have its rewards.
The Cardinal, competing in the same group as Illinois, has top apparatus scores on all but the pommel horse, which factored into its effort at the conference meet. Those scores won't mean anything when it comes to the finals.
Pommel horse was Stanford's 'worst' event last year when it recorded the fourth-highest total. The Cardinal won both the rings and parallel bars competition in Minneapolis.
Junior Tim Gentry seeks to add to the pair of All-America honors he earned last year. This year's team MVP, Gentry is the national leader in the vault with an average score of 16.12. He is also ranked second on the rings (15.55) and 15th on the floor (14.89).
"We need to be a little bit more consistent, and start focusing on details," Gentry said in a February interview. "We certainly have the potential to win again this year, and if everything falls into place, we will win."
Nissen-Emery Award candidate Nicholas Noone was third on the rings last year and is currently ranked No. 11 in the event.
"Bringing another national title to Stanford means a great deal to so many men's gymnastics affiliates, including athletes that have competed for our program in the past," Noone told the team's website. "A great deal of credit must go to the legacy of fantastic gymnasts competing for Stanford. The athletes that came before us set a high standard for our men's gymnastics program."
Freshman Eddie Penev, who currently ranks second in the floor exercise (15.525), is a veteran of international competition in the event.
Josh Dixon, who ranks ninth with a 15.069, and Alex Buscaglia, who ranks 10th with a 14.893, give Stanford a strong cast of characters in the event. Stanford ranks second as a team on the floor.
The Cardinal is also ranked second on rings, with freshman James Fosco leading the way as the nation's No. 5 performer (14.794) in the event.
Stanford competed in the first team qualifying session on Thursday night, facing off against five other schools and needing to finish in the top three to advance to the team final on Friday.
The Cardinal faced No. 1 Illinois, No. 5 Ohio State, No. 8 Penn State, No. 9 Illinois-Chicago and No. 12 Temple. The top three teams went on to face the top three teams from session two that included No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 3 Michigan, No. 6 California, No. 7 Minnesota, No. 10 Nebraska and No. 11 Iowa.
Vault has been a strong event for Stanford all season as Penev (15.87) joins Gentry with a top 10 ranking. Buscaglia also ranks 16th with an average score of 15.862. As a team, the Cardinal are also second overall.
Stanford should also be highly competitive on horizontal bar and the parallel bars. John Martin, Buscaglia and Cameron Foreman are each ranked in the top 20 on parallel bars. On high bar, Ryan Lieberman currently ranks seventh (14.64), while Noone is a returning All-American and ranks 12th (14.45).
The Cardinal will look for improvement on the pommel horse, an event Stanford does not have an athlete ranked among the top 20.
Stanford has won four titles in the program's history including last year, which was the first under head coach Thom Glielmi.
"That's the great thing about this sport: you never know who the winner is going to be until that last guy in that last event," Glielmi said after last year's championship run.