Gymnastics Star Goes to Navy

ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The Navy gymnastics team dominated Army from start-to-finish on its way to a 17.7-point victory in the 2022 edition of the Star Meet before a raucous crowd at Halsey Field House.

Coming into Saturday's contest against their service academy rival with a season-high of 391.45 points, the Mids (2-0) were hitting in all facets of its game plan this afternoon and posted a 397.25 score versus a 379.55 for the Black Knights (1-2). Navy outscored Army in all six events as a team, including 3.0-plus point advantages on the pommel horse, rings and high bar. This win by the Mids was the fourth straight in their series versus the Black Knights.
Coupled with victories by the rifle and the men's and women's track & field teams on Saturday, Navy clinched the 2021-22 Star Series presented by USAA. The Mids now have a 13-1 advantage in the year-long series over the Black Knights.
Strong throughout their lineup, five different Mids placed first in their individual events. Competing for a Star for the first time in his career, freshman Isaiah Drake relished the added pressure and dominated all meet with an all-around score of 82.15 and first place results on the floor exercise, parallel bars and high bar. That all-around score is the second highest by any collegiate gymnast this season. Additionally, he was second on both the pommel horse and vault, and fifth on the rings. His breakout performance was backed up by individual wins by Ronan McQuillan on the pommel horse, Josh Williams (Sr., Cypress, Texas) on the rings and Connor Van Loo on the vault. Fellow freshman Riley Rose helped Navy seal the victory as he joined Drake atop the leaderboard of the high bar in his only event of the day.
As a team Navy posted 66.95 points on the floor exercise, 64.85 on the pommel horse, 66.4 on the rings, 71.1 on the vault, 63.55 on the parallel bars and 64.4 on the high bar.
"This was a special one for us this afternoon," remarked head coach Kip Simons. "This was our first win over Army in our new home, Halsey Field House. This was a total team effort. All 24 guys on our roster found their role and crushed it. The energy and hype in this building was unreal. We really appreciated everyone that came out to support us; the Brigade, the Academy's leadership, alumni, friends, family and local fans. This is what we expected. This is why we do what we do Monday-to-Friday in practice. We want this moment and we want to have dominant performances like today. We'll see Air Force and Army again next weekend at the All-Academy Championship so we'll enjoy this victory for the weekend, but it'll be back to work on Monday.
"Isaiah Drake was outstanding today. He went six-for-six as a plebe. That really gives the team momentum and someone to rally around. Caleb Hickey was great. Look at the plebes, Riley Rose sat for the first five events and then came in and nailed it on the high bar. That was a great effort! Dhiren Lutchman's leadership was on full display this afternoon. He made a mistake on the parallel bars, but he didn't let that affect him. He knows how important it is to lead even when the moment might not be going your way. That was great leadership."
Navy opened the competition with a 1.85-point advantage over Army on the floor exercise. The Mids' starting five controlled the top of the standings as they all finished in the top-seven. Drake earned top honors as he edged Army's Mathew Davis by 0.05 points, 14.0 to 13.95. Van Loo and Syam Buradagunta tied for third with matching 13.4 scores. The final two scorers on Saturday for Navy were Williams and Caleb Hickey, who placed in sixth and seventh respectively with 13.1 and 13.05 results.
The Mids broke out to a 7.25-point lead with a dominant 64.85 to 59.45 turn on the pommel horse. Navy's underclass spearheaded the pommel horse efforts as the Mids claimed first, second and third. McQuillan held off Drake for the event victory by a 0.05 margin, 13.75 to 13.70. Buradagunta posted his second straight third-place finish as he netted 12.75 points for his routine. Dan Clark and John Wendeborn rounded out Navy's pommel horse lineup with scores of 12.35 and 12.30 that ranked sixth and eighth, respectively.
Navy continued building on its lead as it added 3.55 points via the rings rotation. The Mids' five-man squad ruled the over the individual leaderboard spearheaded by Williams' first-place 13.85 score. Fellow senior Alexander Brown finished runner-up with a 13.6. After Army's Davis came in third at 13.35, the trio of Dhiren Lutchman, Drake and Vishal Mandava placed consecutively in fourth, fifth and sixth. Lutchman posted a 13.1 score, 0.05 points ahead of Drake's 13.05. Mandava scored 12.80 points for his rings performance.
Similar to the pommel horse, the Mids went one, two and third on the vault to extend their lead to 12.7 points courtesy of a season-high 71.1 points. Van Loo took top honors with a score of 14.6. Drake challenged his teammate with an equally impressive 14.55 vault. Giovanni Gambatese tied with a pair of Black Knights for third place with a 14.15. Williams and Nehemiah Baker (Sr., Oak Ridge, N.C.) hit the final two vaults of Saturday for Navy and posted scores of 14.05 and 13.75, respectively. Williams ranked sixth ahead of Baker in eighth.
The parallel bars saw the closest team score of the meet between Navy and Army as the Mids added just 0.80 points to their lead. Drake earned his second event win of the afternoon as he cleared the field by 0.20 points with a 13.55 routine. Hickey and Gambatese made it three Navy gymnasts in the top-three as Hickey turned in 13.35 effort, while Gambatese registered a 13.05. Lutchman and Mandava added 12.5 and 11.1 points to the Mids' final score as the duo placed sixth and tenth, respectively.
With the Star well within its grasp, Navy finished strong on the high bar much to the excitement of its boisterous following in Halsey Field House. Rose led off the Mids' high bar lineup with a routine that banked the freshman 13.3 points with an 8.8 execution score plus a 0.1 stick bonus. Rose's first-place score was matched later in the rotation by Drake, who also earned a 13.3. Gambatese came in right behind his freshmen teammates with a 13.2, that was good for third place. In Buradagunta's third action of the day he scored 11.5 points to place ninth overall. Senior Cash Buske had the honor of closing out the Star Meet victory as he put together a 13.1 score to help Navy sweep the top-four positions.
In the all-around individual standings, Drake outscored Davis, 82.15 to 78.35.
"This was an amazing team win and team effort," said Simons in closing. "We're going to enjoy this one."