The No. 6/7 Nebraska men’s gymnastics team welcomes the fifth-ranked Minnesota Golden Gophers to the Bob Devaney Sports Center on Saturday for its final home meet of the season. The Huskers are looking to avenge a 400.750-396.700 loss to the Gophers in Minneapolis, Minn., earlier this season and top the Gophers for the first time in the regular season since 2011.
Competition is set to begin at 4 p.m. and will be televised live on BTN, BTN2GO and the BTN2GO mobile app.
The competition will serve as Senior Day for Coleman Tokar and Austin Epperson. It will also be the last home meet for junior Sanjaya Roy, as he is transferring to attend graduate school after the 2017 season. The trio will be honored for their leadership and dedication to the men’s gymnastics program immediately after the awards ceremony.
Last Time Out
Austin Epperson and Anton Stephenson proved their All-American status by claiming individual event titles in Nebraska’s competition against Iowa on Monday night at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Epperson claimed the titles on floor and parallel bars, while Stephenson placed first on vault. It was Epperson’s second and third titles of the season and for Stephenson, it was his sixth of the season. The three individual titles bring NU’s season total to 22.
Nebraska also bested its season-high vault score, after posting 71.75 against the Hawkeyes. It was the third consecutive week that the Huskers earned a season-high score on the event. In the team results, Iowa topped Nebraska 408.300-400.000, avenging its 418.350-413.500 loss in Lincoln, Neb., on March 4.
Huskers in the Rankings
Nebraska ranks in the top 10 on all six events. The team’s best event is floor, as it ranks fourth with a four-score average of 70.676 and a season high of 71.80. The Huskers rank eighth and ninth on pommel horse and still rings, respectively. Vault has been a consistent event for Nebraska, as the team score has never fallen below 70.0 all season. The team ranks sixth on the event. The Big Red holds the No. 7 spot in the parallel bars rankings and the 10th spot in the high bar rankings. Individually, NU’s Antonio Castro ranks 10th on pommel horse.
Scouting the Golden Gophers
Minnesota is coming off a 413.500-372.700 victory over the UIC Flames on March 18 at home, marking an undefeated season at home. The Golden Gophers swept the individual event titles against the Flames. Yaroslav Pochinka claimed two titles on rings and vault, while Zach Liebler (floor), Justin Karstadt (pommel horse), Ryan Bergman (parallel bars) and Jalon Stephens (high bar) each earned a first-place finish.
The Golden Gophers are led by seniors Liebler and Mitchell Soukup. Liebler is a three-time All-American, after placing eighth on floor and seventh on vault at the 2016 NCAA Championships. Additionally, the Pine Island, Minn., native took third on floor at the 2015 NCAA Championships. He currently ranks 16th in the vault rankings. Soukup is a still rings specialist for the Gophers, averaging 13.725. Other gymnasts to watch include Yaroslav Pochinka, Stephens, Vitali Kan and Alex Wittenberg, along with returning All-Americans Joel Gagnon and Karstadt.
Minnesota ranks in the top 10 on all events, which includes four top-five rankings. The Gophers’ best event is vault, where they rank No. 2. Minnesota ranks fourth on still rings and fifth on floor and parallel bars. Pochinka is the highest-ranked Gopher, as he holds the No. 2 spot on the vault rankings. Wittenberg and Karstadt also rank in the top 10. Wittenberg ranks fifth in the floor rankings, while Karstadt is ranked ninth in the all-around.
Minnesota is 11-9 this season, including 4-5 in conference competition. Victories include Iowa (three times), UIC (twice), Air Force, Nebraska, UMN Club Team, the Canadian National Team, Ukraine’s National Team and Arizona State. Losses include Illinois (twice), Ohio State (twice), Michigan, Oklahoma, Stanford, the Japanese National Team and Stanford.
Next Time Up
Nebraska takes a week off before starting postseason action at the Big Ten Championships April 7-8 in Champaign, Ill. Other teams competing at the competition are Minnesota, Illinois, Iowa, Ohio State, Michigan and Penn State. Both days begin at 6 p.m. (CT) and will be televised live on BTN.
Last season, the Huskers placed sixth at the conference championships. Daniel Leal claimed the silver medal on parallel bars. Leal, along with Kyle King, are the only returning Big Ten Medalists on the Husker squad this season, as King placed third on vault in 2015.
Ohio State is looking for back-to-back titles, as the Buckeyes claimed first at the 2016 Big Ten Championships in Columbus, Ohio.
The 2017 roster includes only two seniors in Austin Epperson and Coleman Tokar. The team had depended on its largest class - the nine juniors, to help the seniors lead the team both inside and outside of the gym. The upperclassmen are getting help from a talented group of underclassmen. Sophomores Jordan King, Anton Stephenson and Heath Anderson, as well as freshmen Jake Bonnay, Evan Hymanson and Josh Martin are all regular parts of the Husker lineups.
Back in the Swing of Things
Nebraska is enjoying the return of several gymnasts who were injured in 2016. Juniors Travis Gollott, Chris Stephenson and Brenon Sommers are regular parts of the lineups on many events for the Huskers. Gollott has competed on pommel horse in every meet so far this season for the Huskers. Stephenson has been a steady all-arounder and earned Big Ten Gymnast of the Week twice this season. As a still rings specialist, Sommers is helping the team on that event. Andrew Zymball, who appeared regularly for NU last season but was sidelined by injury this season, saw his first action of the season against Iowa on March 20 and posted a 14.10 on vault, helping the team to a season-best score on the event.
Strong Floor & Iron Horse
Last season, floor and pommel horse were consistently two of the Huskers’ best events. The team broke the school record on both events last season, while Kyle King and Ethan Lottman broke the individual records on floor and pommel horse, respectively. This season, the Huskers are continuing the trend, thanks to consistent performances from Chris and Anton Stephenson, Antonio Castro, Kyle King, Jordan King, Connor Adamsick, Jake Bonnay, Travis Gollott and Austin Epperson.
Brothers Chris and Anton Stephenson have been nightmares for the competition this season. Although this is the second season the brothers have been on the team together, Chris was out most of last season with an injury. Now that both Chris and Anton are regularly in the lineups, the duo has been dynamic for the Huskers. The Stephensons combine for 10 individual titles so far this season and hold the highest scores on three events and the all-around. Additionally, Chris placed in the top 15 at the Winter Cup Finals on Feb. 18, while Anton was the first Husker to break the 15.0 mark this season after scoring changes prior to 2017 typically lower scores by 0.5. His vault mark of 15.10 is the second-highest vault score in the country. Both Chris and Anton have claimed Big Ten Gymnast-of-the-Week this season at least once. Chris on Jan. 23 and March 6, and Anton on Feb. 27.
Vaulting to Victory
Vault has been consistently the Huskers’ best event this season. It’s the only event that NU has scored at least 70.0 or more in every meet this season. The only 15.0 score for the Huskers this season came from Anton Stephenson on the event against UIC on Feb. 26. Nebraska has set a season-high score on the event the past three consecutive meets.
College Gymnastics Association writer Logan Bradley praised the Huskers in one of his weekly articles saying, “Nebraska is showing a resurgence that they haven’t seen in years. The Huskers should be taken seriously.“