Young Huskers Earn Second Straight Top 10 Finish
Nebraska continued its climb back to prominence in NCAA men's gymnastics with its second straight top-10 finish at the national championships in 2011.
In Chuck Chmelka's second season as the Huskers' head coach, Nebraska's scores continued to improve across the board as a group of young gymnasts began to establish themselves as future forces at the national level.
"Our team did a great job," Chmelka said. "We set our home record team score with a 354 and a road record as well with a 348. Our guys worked hard all year and improved in every facet of competition."
Nebraska's 10th-place finish at the 2011 NCAA Championships in Columbus, Ohio, might be most impressive because of the youth in the Husker lineup.
"We were by far the youngest team on the floor at NCAA's," Chmelka said. "Our freshmen showed their talent and matured throughout the season."
NU's top all-arounder, Andreas Hofer, tied for 11th at the championships as a sophomore. He was the most experienced all-arounder for the Huskers throughout the season.
Hofer, a native of Heidelberg, Germany, captured five individual event titles during the year and posted Nebraska's best marks on floor exercise and high bar during the campaign.
"Andreas was awesome all season," Chmelka said. "He was our leader in and out of the gym. He has developed into one of the top all-arounders in the country, and we expect him to be even better next year."
Nebraska also showcased one of the nation's most exciting freshmen in 2011, with the emergence of Wyatt Aycock.
The first-year performer from Orlando, Fla., erupted for Nebraska's top all-around score with an 88.60 in a triangular victory over Minnesota and Iowa at the Bob Devaney Sports Center in Lincoln on March 19. Aycock's score was the highest all-around mark for a Husker since the NCAA adjusted the scoring system in 2008.
Aycock, who won a pair of individual all-around titles for the Huskers during the season, added a parallel bars crown against the Golden Gophers and Hawkeyes, while also posting NU's top scores on parallel bars and vault during the season.
Aycock concluded his freshman season by finishing eighth with a solid mark of 85.05 in the all-around in Nebraska's team qualifying session at the 2011 NCAA Championships.
"We were really happy with the way Wyatt finished out the season," Chmelka said. "He was our top recruit, and we expect great things out of him. He started the season slow, but stayed on course and matured to develop into a great all-arounder."
Aycock was far from the only newcomer to make a major impact for Nebraska in 2011, as five freshmen each competed on at least three events for the Huskers throughout the season.
C.J. Schaaf also started the year as an all-arounder for the Huskers. The freshman from Houston, Texas, competed in NU's first three meets as an all-arounder before injuries began to limit him.
He competed in three to five events the rest of the regular season, before missing the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation Championships. He returned to compete on still rings and pommel horse at the NCAA Championships team qualifier.
"C.J. suffered a couple injuries that slowed him up throughout the season," Chmelka said. "He is extremely talented though, and we expect a lot from him. He showed that when he is healthy he can do some really impressive things."
Eric Schryver competed on four events for the Huskers throughout the season. The freshman from Richardson, Texas, notched NU's top score for the year on pommel horse with a 15.50 against Minnesota and Iowa on March 19. His performance against the Gophers and Hawkeyes marked one of his three event titles of the year on horse.
Although Schryver starred on horse, he added a pair of top-15 finishes on parallel bars (10th) and high bar (tie for 14th) at the 2011 MPSF Championships.
Andrew House, another freshman from Texas, added to NU's impact newcomers in 2011. House competed on three events throughout most of the season, including appearances on vault, pommel horse and floor exercise at the NCAA Championships.
Redshirt freshman Mark Ringle added regular contributions on four events for the Huskers. The native of San Ramon, Calif., finished among the top 20 competitors in the second qualifying session at the NCAA Championships.
Two more freshmen, Donovan Arndt (rings) and Micah Christensen (high bar) competed for the Huskers throughout the season on their specialties.
While seven freshmen gave the Huskers a whole new look in 2011, sophomore Wyatt Baier added to NU's youth movement.
The native of Denver, Colo., competed on vault, rings and floor exercise for much of the season, providing stability and depth.
While the youngest members of Nebraska's roster may have played the largest roles, seniors Anthony Ingrelli and Bear Danley provided big scores and leadership in their events.
Ingrelli, a 2010 All-American on still rings, closed his career with five individual titles as a senior. He tied for fifth on rings at the MPSF Championships, while settling for 14th in individual event qualifying at the NCAA Championships. Ingrelli closed his NU career with 12 regular-season still rings crowns to his credit.
"We won't be able to replace what Anthony brought to our team," Chmelka said. "Guys will improve and step up, but he will be missed. He was always our top scorer on rings, and it will be tough to find a guy next year to put up those kinds of scores."
Danley provided consistency on both high bar and parallel bars as a senior. He finished seventh on high bar at the 2011 MPSF Championships, while finishing 17th in individual event qualifying at the NCAA Championships.
"Anthony and Bear were great leaders and very consistent for us," Chmelka said. "With such a young team overall, we needed that consistency from our seniors, because young gymnasts tend to be inconsistent, which we saw this year. They did a great job of handling the pressure to hit routines for us."
Nebraska's senior class, which included Cory Baumgarten and Matthew Forrest in 2011, was limited by injuries.
While Ingrelli and Danley combined to fill slots on three events most of the season, Baumgarten missed the year after serving as one of NU's top performers on floor, rings and vault as a junior in 2010.
"We could have really used Cory on rings and vault this year, and it hurt us to have him out of the lineup," Chmelka said. "He was always a steady and consistent performer for us. He was also a brilliant guy in the classroom, so he is going on to graduate school next fall, and we certainly wish him the best as he moves on with life after gymnastics.
"Matt Forrest's knee injury two years ago really hindered his development. He continued to work hard, and was a great guy to have on our team. He's also got a bright future after gymnastics."
Juniors Will Eastman and David Jacobs stepped up to play more prominent roles, while also providing leadership to the collection of younger Huskers.
Nebraska's season began at the Rocky Mountain Open in Colorado Springs, Colo., on Jan. 15, where the Huskers posted a season-opening score of 334.500. NU defeated the hosts from Air Force, but settled for runner-up honors to Oklahoma.
Following a triangular against future Big Ten brethren Minnesota and Illinois at Minneapolis, the Huskers opened their home schedule with a victory over Air Force on Jan. 30.
Hofer won his first all-around title of the season, while adding crowns on floor and high bar. Schryver contributed the first event title of his career with a win on pommel horse, while Ingrelli (rings) and Danley (parallel bars) added victories of their own.
The Huskers returned home on Feb. 13 to face Oklahoma and Illinois-Chicago at the Devaney Center. NU notched its best team score through the first four meets with a 349.700, easily defeating UIC. Oklahoma claimed the team victory in the triangular, while Ingrelli captured his third straight still rings title.
Nebraska traveled to Iowa City on Feb. 19, and four Huskers earned individual event titles in a narrow loss to the Hawkeyes. Ingrelli captured his fourth consecutive rings crown, while Wyatt Baier added the first event win of his career on vault. Schryver added his second win of the season on horse, while Hofer managed a high bar win despite battling flu-like symptons during the meet.
Hofer missed the floor and vault competitions at Iowa because of illness, marking the only time all season he did not compete in the all-around.
After a two-week break, Nebraska returned to the Devaney Center to take on eventual 2011 national champion Stanford March 6. The Cardinal proved their mettle with a dual win over the Huskers.
Nebraska then traveled to the home gym of the 2011 NCAA Championships when they faced future Big Ten foes Ohio State and Illinois on March 12. Hofer claimed his fifth event title of the season with a win on parallel bars, while Aycock captured his first collegiate event crown with an all-around victory.
A week later, Aycock showed that he was coming of age with a breakthrough performance in Nebraska's home finale against Minnesota and Iowa. Aycock unleashed an 88.60 to capture the individual all-around crown, while adding an event win on parallel bars. Aycock's effort helped the Huskers produce their best score of the season with a 354.500.
Ingrelli (rings) and Schryver (horse) added event championships to help knock off both the Hawkeyes and Golden Gophers on Senior Day in Lincoln.
After a fourth-place finish at the MPSF Championships in Colorado Springs, Colo., April 2, the Huskers closed the season at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio, with the NCAA Championships.
"We really had a great NCAA Championships and set a good standard for our team next year," Chmelka said. " We're excited for the future because our young guys gained experience that is only going to help us next year. We also have a great crop of incoming freshmen who will come in fighting for spots on the team and push this year's young group to perform at even higher levels."