GymHawks hang on to win on Senior Night against Maryland

BY EVELYN LAU | MARCH 2, 2009 7:30 AM

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Feb. 28 might have been designated Senior Night for the Iowa women’s gymnastics team, but the underclassmen carried the 21st-ranked GymHawks to a 194.875-192.175 victory over No. 25 Maryland in Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

Iowa sophomore Houry Gebeshian won her fourth all-around title with a 39.300, edging out teammate and senior Jenifer Simbhudas (39.275), who won the vault with a 9.900 and tied for first on the balance beam with a 9.825. Freshman Jessa Hansen won the floor exercise with a 9.875, and sophomore Rebecca Simbhudas tied with Gebeshian for first on bars with a 9.800.

The desire and drive displayed by the underclassmen greatly impressed head coach Larissa Libby.
“I think while it has been extremely difficult to lose the kids we’ve lost [to injuries], it’s been an eye-opener for our team, and for our staff,” Libby said. “I think it has been almost refreshing for us to see how much the underclassmen can give and are willing to give. I think the future looks really bright for us with these kids.

“They are dedicated, they’re passionate, they’re focused, and you can always do wonders with that.”
The GymHawks (9-4, 2-1) got out to a fast start with six solid performances on the vault, scoring a 49.225, the highest mark on the event this season. Five of six gymnasts scored season-highs ranging from Jenifer Simbhudas’ 9.900 to a 9.825 by freshman Annie Szatkowski. After the first rotation, Iowa built over a two-point lead on Maryland.

During the second rotation, Iowa moved on to bars, but a fall by Hansen and a misstep from freshman Jennie Schurman opened the door for the Terrapins. However, strong performances from Gebeshian (9.800) and Rebecca (9.800) and Jenifer (9.750) Simbhudas helped secure the GymHawks’ 97.525-96.375 lead.

Turning to the balance beam for the third rotation, Iowa got off a solid start with junior Andrea Hurlburt scoring a 9.725. Jenifer Simbhudas (9.825) and Gebeshian (9.800) also put up high scores for Iowa. However, falls by senior Brandi Loffer and Rebecca Simbhudas allowed Maryland to close the gap, trailing the GymHawks, 145.900-145.150.

Heading into the final rotation, Iowa turned to the crowd for an additional lift on the floor exercise.

The GymHawks took the top three spots securing the team victory with Hansen taking first (9.875), while Gebeshian (9.850) and Jenifer Simbhudas (9.800) following closely behind. Gebeshian began her routine by trying to get the crowd members on their feet. While she didn’t quite get the response she was hoping for, she appreciated the effort.

“I was trying to get them to stand up, but I got like one person,” she said. “But next time, if the crowd is having fun, we’re having fun. I think it goes both ways.”

After the meet, Iowa had a special presentation honoring the seniors — Loffer, Jenifer Simbhudas, Kara Pinjuv, and Brittany Logan.

Despite the emotions the meet carried, Jenifer Simbhudas tried not to think about it too much during competition.

“It’s bittersweet,” she said. “I can’t believe it’s been four years already, doesn’t even feel like I’m going to be done. I still want to do gymnastics, but I mean, I didn’t really think about it too much because I didn’t want it to get to me or my gymnastics.”

Libby also holds a special place in her heart for this senior class — as it was the first she recruited on her own.

“To think about not having them is devastating to me,” Libby said. “Just to see their faces every day, their passion and dedication they bring to our program. They’ve truly changed the culture of our program and they’re the reasons why we are as good as we are today.”

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