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Women gymnasts gear up

BY ROBBIE LEHMAN | DECEMBER 04, 2009 7:30 AM

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With its season on the brink of beginning, the Iowa women’s gymnastics team will begin Saturday when the Hawkeyes compete against themselves.

The gymnasts will split up for their Black and Gold intrasquad meet in the Field House beginning at 2 p.m.

Head coach Larissa Libby is looking for consistency above all else from her young team this winter.

“That’s kind of why we do the whole Black and Gold team intrasquad,” she said. “It just gives us a better idea of what they’ll do under the gun. In practice, anyone can be good, but when the green flag goes up, then we’ll know what we’re made of.”

Although injuries caused the GymHawks to fall short of Libby’s expectations last season, the one positive the fifth-year head coach took from the 2008-09 campaign was that the newcomers gained experience. Growth and development will be a major key this season — especially with only one returning senior in Jenny Donar.

The bulk of Iowa’s routines will come from the freshman and sophomore classes, Libby said. After a terrific freshman season, sophomore Jessa Hansen will try to play a big role for the Hawkeyes.

“I think we’re starting to put it together,” said Hansen, a member of the Gold team. “Everyone’s starting to realize our goals for the season. We’re just trying to get further than last season. We were setting the standard. Now, we’re trying to go higher this year.”

Hansen said she has been training to compete in all four events — vault, uneven bars, balance beam, and floor exercise — to help the team. Balance in all four events is something Libby noted as an early strength.

Both on the Black team for the meet, juniors Andrea Hurlburt and Kelly Galau are enthusiastic about the upcoming season.

“I’m looking forward to seeing how far we can go together as a whole and individually and seeing if we can expand on our goals from last year and become better,” Galau said. “This year, we have a lot more experience, so I think that will come in handy.”

Because of the team’s youth, Hurlburt said, Iowa will peak later in the season. However, the youngsters have impressed the third-year Hawkeye so far with their work ethic.

“Sometimes pressure is good,” Hurlburt said. “Most of our freshmen and sophomores have really, really stepped up this year. I don’t think successful gymnasts come from timid people. It’s the type of people who thrive under pressure, and so, this is a good chance for all the new girls to shine.”

The contradiction of youth and experience has Libby telling the Hawkeyes that, basically, the sky is the limit for this year’s group.

“This is a pretty fun team,” she said. “They’re the right kids, but they have a hard time seeing themselves as champions yet. It’s hard to train kids who have no idea how good they are. It’s our job to pull that out of them. I think if we’re going to establish an identity. Maybe in the beginning it’s going to be the ‘quiet noise.’ ”

Iowa aims to establish itself in the Big Ten first before looking ahead to tournament time, Libby said. It all starts with the intrasquad meet, in which the Hawkeyes will learn a lot about being a new team before its first meet, at Michigan on Jan. 9, 2010.

“We’ve tried to tell the girls not to make goals that are lofty and unrealistic,” Libby said. “Yeah, everybody wants to go to the national championship. So what? How are you going to get there?

“That’s how we try to set the culture and the precedent of our team based on how you establish the groundwork to achieve those goals. If you don’t have the base, you can’t do anything. Whatever happens after that is just icing on the cake.”


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