Mikulak wins 7th individual NCAA title

ANN ARBOR, Mich. (AP) Down to his final event, Michigan’s Sam Mikulak landed from the parallel bars and pumped both fists.

Exhilaration? Relief?

”There’s so many different emotions,” Mikulak said. ”I guess just pure joy.”

Mikulak won a record-tying seventh individual NCAA gymnastics title Saturday night with a victory on the parallel bars. He said he didn’t feel any pressure after coming up empty in his first three events of the night, and sure enough, the senior finished strong.

Illinois’ Joe Giallombardo and Nebraska’s Jim Hartung also won seven individual titles.

”That’s a great class of men to be a part of,” Mikulak said. ”I’m honored to be one of those gymnasts that will forever be remembered.”

Mikulak won the all-around title and led Michigan to a victory in the team competition Friday. Oklahoma finished second in the team event, but the Sooners stole the show a bit during Saturday’s individual competitions.

Oklahoma’s Alec Robin won both the floor exercise and vault, and teammate Michael Squires took the title on the still rings.

”Our team did everything that we could to get to the place where we were (Friday). It wasn’t the result that we wanted, but as a team, I think it was a success in our minds,” Robin said. ”It wasn’t really a disappointment. We didn’t hang our heads low or anything. Coming in today, it was just kind of, get back at them, almost, a little bit. We were just going for individual titles for OU – kind of raise the numbers.”

Robin edged Chandler Eggleston of Illinois in the floor exercise, and Mikulak finished fourth in that event. Mikulak finished last on the pommel horse, and defending champion Michael Newburger of Ohio State was ninth.

Ellis Mannon of Minnesota ended up taking the title in that event.

”There was a lot of nerves in the pommel horse final,” Mannon said. ”I was nervous too, but the most you can do is hit your set.”

Jordan Valdez of Illinois won the high bar.

Squires fared better in his title defense than Newburger, winning the rings for the second consecutive year. Not bad for someone who arrived at Oklahoma with fairly modest expectations.

”I wasn’t even sure I was going to make the team freshman year, being a walk-on,” said Squires, who is now a junior. ”I was lucky enough to be given a chance. … Sophomore year, it was kind of a surprise. I didn’t know I was going to win, I didn’t know I could win. So that was amazing. This year was a little bit more of a grind, just because I knew what winning felt like, and I knew the standards that I needed to meet in order to be a repeat.”

Robin edged Eggleston again to win the vault, with Mikulak placing a distant eighth. So Mikulak – a 2012 U.S. Olympian – had only one more chance to match Giallombardo and Hartung in the record book.

He made the most of it, outscoring Stanford’s Akash Modi on the parallel bars to take the lead. A cheer came up from a section of Michigan fans when Mikulak’s score of 15.875 was posted, eclipsing Modi’s 15.6.

Mikulak had to wait out one more competitor before his title became official. He wasn’t too reflective afterward, but the victory was clearly meaningful. He’s won three all-around titles and two each on the parallel bars and high bar.

And that doesn’t even include team national championships last year and this year.

”I do realize the fact that this is the close of the NCAA career for me. It’s still processing, I guess. It still hasn’t hit me,” he said. ”Ended as well as I wanted to end.”