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Hawks finish sixth in NCAA Regional

BY EVELYN LAU | APRIL 06, 2009 7:30 AM

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In a matter of seconds, Jenifer Simbhudas’ gymnastics career — and the Iowa season — ended, but not in the way they had envisioned.

As Iowa hosted the 2009 NCAA North Central Regional on Saturday, nothing seemed to go right for the sixth-seeded GymHawks. The top two seeds, No. 6 Florida (196.775) and No. 7 UCLA (196.625), rolled into Carver-Hawkeye Arena and finished 1-2, qualifying both teams for the NCAA meet on April 16. However for Iowa, the loss of another gymnast to injury and missed opportunity still lingers.

“I’m certainly disappointed,” head coach Larissa Libby said. “The thing that we knew is it was going to take us being 24-for-24 but we felt like if we had a little help from some people who might mess up, that maybe we could be knocking on that door, kick it down a little bit. I didn’t see the whole competition but it seemed like there were some opportunities there that we could have taken some advantage of, but with the loss of Jenifer, it was almost impossible.

“We had two falls early, and we just can’t play catch-up. At the level of this competition, you make any mistakes, there’s just no room for errors.”

The GymHawks kicked off their regional on the balance beam. While all the gymnasts stayed on the apparatus, some shaky landings caused point deductions, resulting in a less-than-stellar 48.175. Sophomore Houry Gebeshian led Iowa with a 9.700, tying for 19th.

After the first rotation, Iowa was sixth while UCLA led the way with a 49.125, scored on the uneven bars.

The GymHawks then received a bye before moving onto the floor exercise during the third rotation. Iowa got off to an unfavorable start when junior Jenny Donar over-rotated on a tumbling pass, causing her to fall out of bounds, resulting in a 9.075. Iowa fans tried to rally the team by showing their support as each gymnast stepped up to perform her routine. Freshman Jessa Hansen electrified the crowd, which included her former coach Liang Chow of Chow’s Gymnastics, with her 9.900 routine, earning her a tie for third place.

“I just thought about hitting it,” she said. “I mean, we needed to hit, and the crowd was awesome tonight, and my team was right there behind me, so it was easy to do a good routine.”

Next up was Simbhudas. With the fans behind her, she began her first tumbling pass with some extra bounce but landed awkwardly, injuring her knee. She stayed down on her back before being carried over to get looked at and did not return to the competition.

“For Jenifer, I am just so sad that was the end of her career,” Libby said. “Personally, it’s really hard for me because I’ve watched her grow up. I’ve known [Simbhudas] her whole life, so that is definitely gut-wrenching and not a way I had hoped she would finish her career out. I think it’s one of the most talented athletes in the country whom we will not see at the national championships, and that’s just really, really sad and disappointing.”

Having to head over to the vault during the fourth rotation, Libby tried to keep her team focused.
“We had to stay motivated and focused and together as a team,” Hansen said.

Freshman Annie Szatkowski led Iowa with a 9.825 vault, tying for 14th while Donar made her vault season début in place of Simbhudas, scoring a 9.600. The GymHawks scored a 48.900, but remained in sixth with a 144.875.

Receiving another bye during the fifth rotation, Iowa finished its regional on the uneven bars.

Sophomore Rebecca Simbhudas led the team with a 9.825 routine (tied for seventh) in which she stuck her landing. Iowa scored a 48.750, to finish with an overall score of 193.625, but it was not enough to move the GymHawks up.

Florida and UCLA remained in a tough battle as the Bruins finished during the fifth rotation on vault, taking a 49.425 on the event. The Gators received a bye before heading to the balance beam during the sixth rotation in hopes of catching UCLA. Florida’s Corey Hartung secured the Gators’ fifth-consecutive regional championship with a 9.950 routine.


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