By Taylor McNitt
Over the weekend in the Windy City, the Iowa men’s gymnastics team competed in the NCAA Championships in the very venue in which it began the 2018 season. And just like that first invitational, the Hawkeyes placed in the lower half.
Twelve teams showed up at the NCAA Championships, split between two sessions. Iowa competed in the second session against Illinois, Penn State, Ohio State, Cal-Berkeley, and Oklahoma. Oklahoma ended up taking it all with a team score of 410.991. Comparatively, the Hawkeyes barely broke 400 and landed in their expected team ranking of ninth.
“This is really bittersweet,” head coach JD Reive said. “We were brilliant with a lot of things, we just missed a couple of key crucial routines. We had a lot of guys do some really good gymnastics, [but] I’m disappointed that we didn’t advance as a team.”
Toward the latter portion of the season, the Hawkeyes displayed a lot of promise by upsetting higher-ranked teams. At both the Big Ten and NCAA Championships, they fell short and couldn’t repeat the act.
Unfortunately, the disappointment doesn’t end there.
“It’s disappointing with the seniors,” Reive said. “I’m super bummed out for them. [They] would have put the team into finals, but we didn’t pull it off; that couple of points was easy to make up.”
The four seniors on the team had been strong performers and constant scorers all season long. Dylan Ellsworth’s vault and parallel-bar scores have regularly been some of the best all season. On the pommel horse, Austin Hodges and Elijah Parsells have been powerhouses, and on the rings and floor, Mark Springett put up the numbers Iowa needed.
But come April 20, none of them could pull through to finals.
This, however, doesn’t mean that Iowa was done after April 20.
“Bennet [Huang] had a phenomenal meet,” Reive said. “He went 6-for-6 and stuck a lot of landings. He performed incredibly well and deserves to be in the finals as an all-arounder. We have few things we can clean up for tomorrow, but it should be another great competition for him.”
Iowa’s rising star freshman wasn’t alone in competing well enough in the first round to move on.
Junior Andrew Herrador, sophomore Nick Merryman, junior Jake Brodarzon, and junior Kevin Johnson joined him in the finals.
“We put out five guys,” Reive said. “Bennet had a fantastic all-around meet, Andrew did a beautiful high-bar routine, Nick had a beautiful pommel-horse routine, and Jake stuck his vault two days in a row, which was awesome,”
In the finals, Brodarzon placed 43rd on rings but bounced back to place 15th on vault. Herrador also scored a fifth-place finish on the high bar. On the pommel horse, Merryman tied for 17th, followed by Johnson’s 22nd place. Huang wrapped up the competition with a 12th-place finish in the all-around.
So even if the team didn’t quite make it, NCAAs were still sweet for the Hawkeyes.
“They performed great,” Reive said. “The energy and the venue was top-notch and super exciting. To be a part of that and experience that with the guys and the way they performed was exactly how I wanted to end our season.”