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Stephenson, fellow seniors close a chapter in style as NU upends No. 3 Michigan

March 24, 2019

Anton Stephenson and his three senior teammates wrote a book Saturday -- figuratively speaking, of course -- on how to close out a home career.

Stephenson, one of the program’s most-decorated gymnasts in recent memory, won three event championships, and more importantly, the No. 7 Nebraska men bounced back from a couple sluggish meets to defeat No. 3 Michigan 408.700-403.800 on Senior Day at the Devaney Sports Center.

The 408.700 was a season-best score.

The Huskers had seven falls three weeks ago at Iowa and seven more two weeks ago at Ohio State. NU only had three misses Saturday, and two came in the final event, high bar.

“We got to be able to close, that was too bad that happened, but in the scheme of things, what a great meet for us,” NU coach Chuck Chmelka said. “We needed that.

“We beat a great team.”

Nebraska, which had season-highs in vault, still rings and parallel bars, looked sharp throughout the meet. It had 12 stick landings (landings without any hops), which led to an extra 4.8 points.

Stephenson was the king of stick on Saturday. He picked up his second score of 15 or better this season on vault, finishing with a 15.050. He won parallel bars with a career-best mark of 14.750 and he won floor exercise with a 14.400.

“Was he on fire, or what?” Chmelka asked. “What a way to go out. Nobody deserves more than he does.

“He just kind of single-handedly throws people on his back and carries with them.”

Stephenson competed as an all-arounder Saturday and said he was able to put together six strong routines, finishing with a 84.400. That also kept his mind busy during a day when NU honored its seniors.

“It was kind of nice being an all-arounder because I didn’t have time to think about the emotions,” said Stephenson, a three-time All-American and three-time Big Ten champion. “Now I think it’s really starting to set in that this is my last time competing in the Devaney.”

Some of the Huskers’ other top routines came from seniors. Papillion-La Vista grad Andrew Zymball scored a 14.050 on parallel bars and Joshua Everitt received a 14.000 on still rings to finish second.

“I honestly came into today not knowing what to expect, just went through my normal routine, but as soon I saluted my hand it all became surreal,” Zymball said of the senior day emotions. “It was, ‘Wow, this is the last time I’m going to ever do a routine here,’ and I’ve been doing a routine here since I was 6 years old. It was just a crazy feeling.”

Despite tough showings at Penn State and most recently at Iowa and Ohio State, the Huskers entered Saturday believing they had the horses to compete for a Big Ten championship.

Defeating Michigan, arguably the team to beat in the Big Ten, two weeks ahead of the conference meet could be the spark they were looking for.

The Wolverines entered the weekend vying for the Big Ten regular-season championship.

“This was massive,” Zymball said. “We really needed this, it’s a huge momentum boost and huge confidence boost and it really shows us what our true potential is. We’re a dangerous team and once we put it all together, we have a chance to win a Big Ten championship.”

The Big Ten meet is in two weeks in Iowa City, Iowa.

[ PHOTOS: The Nebraska men’s gymnastics team edges Michigan at home Saturday ]