GymHawks look to regional

BY EVELYN LAU | MARCH 24, 2009 7:30 AM

The multitude of injuries and inexperience finally caught up.

Unfortunately for the Iowa women’s gymnastics team, they caught up during the Big Ten championships last weekend in Champaign, Ill.

Despite boasting the second highest team total of the season, 195.450, the GymHawks (10-5, 2-2) only managed a seventh-place finish. No. 15 Michigan repeated as Big Ten champions with a 197.075 team score.

Head coach Larissa Libby was impressed with her team’s resiliency after a subpar performance on the balance beam involving two falls and some minor missteps. However, the feeling of what could have been lingered — she felt the GymHawks had competed well in the other events.

“I was disappointed with the fact that we took ourselves out of it before we ever had a shot,” she said. “We were great on three events, it was the second highest score of the season, so it wasn’t like the gymnastics wasn’t great, but we woke up too late.”

The GymHawks received a bye in the first rotation and kicked things off on the balance beam during the second. Senior Jenifer Simbhudas led Iowa with a 9.800, earning her 12th place. Freshman Jessa Hansen also had a good début at the championship with a 17th-place score of 9.775, second best on the team.

However, sophomore Houry Gebeshian and senior Brandi Loffer both suffered falls during their routines and earned only a 9.325 and a 9.150. The GymHawks recorded a 48.225 on the event, putting their run at a Big Ten title in seriously doubt.

“With the conference being as strong as it is right now, and with seven teams vying to be in the national championships, you just have no room with error,” Libby said.

Iowa regrouped as it moved onto the floor exercise. All six GymHawks’ routines scored a 9.800 or higher, with Simbhudas putting up a 9.900 to finish tied for fifth. Iowa scored a 49.250 as a team, the fourth highest team tally on the event.

The GymHawks moved onto the vault, scoring a solid 49.125. Freshmen Rachel Corcoran and Annie Szatkowksi put up scores of a 9.825 and 9.800, and sophomore Arielle Sucich led the team with a 9.850, giving her a tie for ninth place.

Wrapping up competition, Iowa finished on the uneven bars. Simbhudas again paved the way for the GymHawks with a 9.800, good enough for 15th place, and Hansen and Gebeshian followed closely behind with identical scores of 9.775, tying for 21st place in the meet.

In the all-around, Minnesota’s Carmelina Carabajal won with a 39.500. Simbhudas finished seventh overall with a 39.300, and younger sister and sophomore Rebecca Simbhudas came in 14th with a 39.050. Rounding our Iowa’s all-around contention was Gebeshian, who finished in 16th place with a 38.700.

The previous night, Jenifer Simbhudas and Gebeshian were named first team All-Big Ten, the second time for Simbhudas and the first for Gebeshian.

“It’s a pretty big honor to be in the first team All-Big Ten, so I was pretty surprised and honored,” Gebeshian said. “It’s a good thing to be recognized by other coaches.”

Despite the disappointing finish, Iowa will get a chance for some redemption when it hosts the NCAA North Central Regional Meet in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on April 4. The GymHawks will welcome No. 6 Florida, No. 7 UCLA, No. 17 Minnesota, No. 25 Denver, and No. 24 Iowa State along with five other all-around competitors whose teams did not qualify, as well as four event specialists.

Even with the tough competition awaiting them in Iowa City, the Iowa gymnasts are looking forward to the meet.

“It’s actually pretty exciting,” Loffer said. “I’m really excited. You just have your home crowd there and there’s more excitement. It’s going to be a good competition.”

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