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GymHawks aim to stick it

BY ROBBIE LEHMAN | FEBRUARY 18, 2010 7:30 AM

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Iowa women’s gymnastics head coach Larissa Libby has been preaching one thing to the Hawkeyes all season: Hit their routines.

They have yet to live up to their preseason goals and expectations thus far. And as a result, Libby has taken a new approach.

This week, the sixth-year coach drew an arrow and colored in a small portion in red, signifying the amount of potential the GymHawks have left untapped.

“A lot of the kids are visual learners. It’s easier for them to see it to fix it with their skills,” Libby said. “So I thought, ‘Let’s try something different and have them see it visually. This is where you are, and this is where you need to go, and these are the things you need to do in order to accomplish that.’ ”

Iowa’s lone Big Ten win this season came at home over Ohio State on Feb. 6. Hits: 23-of-24.

Last weekend, the Hawkeyes placed last out of four teams at the Navy Pier Meet in Chicago. The GymHawks only hit 20 of their routines, scoring 193.625 points — slightly above the 193.183 season average.

Sophomore Annie Szatkowski said the team is full of “visual learners” and took Libby’s message to heart.

“You can say something. You can beat it to death, but if you show somebody something, then you can really see it,” Szatkowski said. “It helps a lot and puts it into perspective.”

It’s well-documented that this season’s GymHawks are unusually young. With only six upperclassmen on the roster, the youthful gymnasts are struggling to grasp some basic ideas, Libby said.

Another technique she uses to present her case? Calculating statistics to demonstrate that the most important part of the routine is sticking the landing.

On average, sidestepping on a dismount or landing will earn a deduction of one-tenth of a point from a judge. Added up, those lost portions can easily determine a meet.

“We went back and looked at statistically how many landing sticks we had,” Libby said. “Out of 18 possible, there were only four done. So if you don’t change anything in how well you do hitting, as far as falling off or staying on, and the only thing you change is how many steps you take out of a landing, we’re increasing our score by 1.8, which is very annoying for us right now.”

With its next dual meet at home No. 15 Iowa State on Feb. 21, Libby and her team know Iowa will need to hit every routine possible to keep up with the Cyclones.

Junior all-arounder Houry Gebeshian said Iowa has seen a rapid improvement in performance in just the few days since Libby called the team meeting.

“I think that’s a great tactic to actually have us realize how we’re doing inside the gym and outside the gym, in competition,” she said. “Seeing that we only stuck five times out of the 24 that we can stick, it’s like, ‘Oh my gosh, what are we doing?’ Right now, people have already started sticking and doing better.”

Overall, Libby said, she hopes the complicated statistics will prove a simple point to the Hawkeyes.

“We’re trying to concentrate on that being the bigger fix, and probably the easier fix mentally for them, rather than concentrating on a bigger picture, which is hitting 24-for-24. I think that it gets overwhelming, thinking, ‘I have to hit, I have to hit, I have to hit.’

“Just clean up your landing; it’s going to change the score quite a bit.”


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