Huskers Make History in 2017
The Nebraska men's gymnastics hit a program milestone in 2017, advancing to the NCAA Championship team finals for the first time since 1999 and finishing in the top six., resulting in the program's best finish in 18 years.
The Huskers were led by returning All-Americans Austin Epperson and Anton Stephenson, as well as senior Coleman Tokar. Epperson and Stephenson competed in every meet for the Huskers on multiple events. Epperson was a strong contributor on floor, still rings and parallel bars and claimed his second All-America honor on floor at the 2017 NCAA Championships, after finishing second on the event. Stephenson, a typical all-arounder, was limited by an injury to just five events during the regular season. In the postseason, he was healthy enough to contribute on all six events for Nebraska. The first time he competed in the all-around all season was at the Big Ten Championships and he grabbed the bronze medal. Additionally, he went on to win the vault title, becoming NU's first conference champion since 2002 and its first since joining the Big Ten. Coleman Tokar competed five times on high bar for the Huskers and notched a season-best score of 13.35 against Oklahoma.
The trio was joined by a strong group of upperclassmen and underclassmen, including the biggest class – the nine juniors. With only two seniors on the team, the juniors were forced to step up and play major roles on the Husker squad. Chris Stephenson was a driving force in 2017, competing in every meet for the Huskers. He was a consistent all-arounder, as he competed eight times in every event. He earned Big Ten Gymnast-of-the-Week honors twice and NCAA Gymnast-of-the-Week accolades once. He also placed fourth in the all-around at the Big Ten Championships. Kyle King played an important role on vault, floor, pommel horse and parallel bars and went on to claim his first All-America award on floor at the NCAA Championships. Antonio Castro replaced two-time All-American Ethan Lottman as the anchor on pommel horse and also competed on high bar. He was one of four Huskers to advance to the Big Ten Championships Finals where he finished 10th on pommel horse. Connor Adamsick saw significant action on floor and vault. Daniel Leal was a regular competitor on vault, parallel bars and high bar. Alex Magsam was a strong competitor on still rings and vault. Sanjaya Roy made significant improvements during the offseason to earn a regular spot in the still rings' lineup. Travis Gollott was eager to get back in the gym after being forced to take a medical redshirt in 2016. Despite being limited to just one event, he was a steady and consistent member of the pommel horse lineup in every meet for the Huskers. Brenon Sommers served as a reliable competitor on still rings but was limited to only five meets due to an injury.
Jordan King, Joshua Everitt, Andrew Zymball and Heath Anderson joined Anton Stephenson in the sophomore class. King competed in every meet on pommel horse and often appeared on still rings and high bar. He was one of four Huskers to advance to the Big Ten Championships Finals where he finished ninth on pommel horse. Anderson made huge improvements during the offseason and competed in every meet for the Huskers on still rings, despite only competing once last year. Everitt and Zymball were limited by injuries in 2017 and only competed once on still rings and twice on vault, respectively.
The freshman class made a big impact for Nebraska as well. Jake Bonnay and Evan Hymanson competed consistently for NU. Bonnay was a member of the floor and high bar lineups, while Hymanson competed in every meet on parallel bars. Josh Martin competed three times on vault, scoring higher than 14.0 each time, but was forced to take a medical redshirt after suffering an injury. Austin Lober joined the team in the middle of the season and competed once for the Huskers on still rings scoring 13.55.
Nebraska began its season in West Point, N.Y., at the West Point Open Jan. 13-14. On the first day, the team placed second overall (410.600), while eight Huskers advanced to the finals. Castro and Leal earned titles on vault and parallel bars, respectively. Leal also placed second on vault behind Castro, while Castro placed third on pommel horse and fifth on high bar. Anderson also placed in the top three, taking third on still rings.
The following weekend, Nebraska hosted the top-ranked Oklahoma Sooners at the Bob Devaney Sports Center for its home opener on Jan. 21. Despite falling to OU 426-600-414.400, the Huskers improved their overall score by almost four points in one week and Chris Stephenson and Castro each claimed individual titles – Stephenson on floor and in the all-around and Castro on pommel horse.
The Huskers began a series of away meets starting on Feb. 4 in Minneapolis, Minn., where the team faced the Golden Gophers and the University of Minnesota Club Team. NU defeated the Club Team, but fell to Minnesota. Castro claimed his third consecutive individual title, this time on pommel horse with a score of 13.95. A week later, Nebraska traveled to the West Coast for the Pac-12 Invitation on Feb. 11 in Berkeley, Calif., where the team competed against Stanford, California and Arizona State. Anton Stephenson claimed the individual event title on vault with a season-best score at the time of 14.75. As a team, the Huskers placed second with a score of 408.800 behind Stanford, which included a season-high vault score of 71.100.
As a team, Nebraska took a few weeks off, while Hymanson and Chris Stephenson were invited to represent the Huskers at the prestigious Winter Cup in Las Vegas, Nev., on Feb. 16. Stephenson advanced to the finals on Feb. 18, where he finished in the top 15 overall.
The team was back in action on Feb. 26, when it traveled to Chicago, Ill., to battle UIC. In the first meet of the season after the Winter Cup, where every individual score counted towards the team score, the Huskers put on an impressive showing. Led by a season-high vault score at the time, which included the Huskers' first 15.0 score of the season from All-American Anton Stephenson and a sweep of the individual event titles, Nebraska topped the Flames 406.300-367.950. Anton Stephenson claimed the vault title and pommel horse title, while sharing the floor title with Epperson. Chris Stephenson placed first on still rings. Leal took home the parallel bars title, while Jordan King earned his first collegiate title, after taking first on horizontal bar.
On March 4, Nebraska returned home to host Iowa and Penn State. The Huskers placed first, grabbing their first conference victories of the season. It was the first time Nebraska defeated Penn State in the regular season since 1999 and the first time Nebraska beat Iowa since 2013. Chris Stephenson (all-around), Kyle King (floor) and Castro (pommel horse) each claimed an individual title.
The Big Red took a week off before traveling to Iowa City, Iowa, to face the Hawkeyes again on March 20. The Huskers fell to the Hawkeyes, but Epperson and Anton Stephenson claimed event titles. Epperson placed first on floor and parallel bars, while Stephenson earned first place on vault.
NU bounced back the following week on March 25, by scoring the fourth-highest score in the country (425.550) at home against Minnesota. Anton Stephenson and Epperson earned individual event titles for the second consecutive week. Stephenson earned his on vault and Epperson grabbed his on floor. Castro also earned the pommel horse title. Despite the incredible performance, the Huskers fell to the Gophers.
The Cornhuskers took one week off before beginning postseason action at the Big Ten Championships in Champaign, Ill., April 7-8. On the first day, Anton Stephenson and Chris Stephenson finished third and fourth, respectively in the all-around to lead the time to a fifth-place conference finish – its best since joining the conference prior to the 2012 season. The pair, along with Castro and Jordan King advanced to the finals on the second day. There, Anton Stephenson claimed the vault title, becoming the Huskers' first Big Ten Champion and the first conference champion since 2002. He also placed fourth on parallel bars and tied for seventh on floor. Chris Stephenson finished 10th on still rings and sixth on parallel bars. King and Castro finished ninth and 10th on pommel horse, respectively.
Nebraska used that momentum at the NCAA Championship Qualifiers on April 21, putting on one of its best performances of the season to earn a spot in the finals on April 22 for the first time since 1999. At the finals, the Huskers finished sixth overall with a score of 412.900. Epperson grabbed the runner-up finish on floor, earning his second-career All-America honor. Kyle King finished fifth on the same event, claiming his first All-America honor.
Kyle King and Anton Stephenson will return as All-Americans next season to help lead the Huskers in 2018.