Men’s gymnastics faces Big Ten championship contender this weekend

BY NICK GANS | MARCH 05, 2010 7:30 AM

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The Iowa men’s gymnastics team will need to be at its best this weekend when No. 4 Illinois heads to Iowa City on March 7.

Not only will the No. 10 Hawkeyes compete against a contender for the NCAA title. They’ll be fighting their emotions as well.

Iowa’s four seniors are slated to perform for the last time in Carver-Hawkeye Arena beginning at 2 p.m.

Although the emotions will be high and the competition fierce, Iowa refuses to look at its meet against the Fighting Illini differently from any other.

“It’s going to be sad competing at the last home meet for us seniors, but you’ve got to focus on the task at hand,” said Iowa senior Reid Urbain, who will be honored alongside Jon Buese, Danny Kuklinski, and Joel Snyder. “You can’t compete any differently, because that’s when you could start doing things that will make you mess up.”

Instead, the Hawkeyes hope to improve on their mishaps from the Pacific Coast Classic on Feb. 20.
In Oakland, the floor exercise was troublesome, Iowa head coach Tom Dunn said.

Yet despite limited practice time and his team still suffering from some of the same troubles as two weeks ago, Dunn does have hope for improvement.

“We were fantastic [at the floor exercise] the last time we were in Carver against Michigan,” Dunn said. “I think we’ll be better in Carver, if only because it’s later in the season and Senior Day.”

Urbain said, “We know we can do routines, and now it’s about hitting them — and hitting them with the best form possible.”

For some Iowa gymnasts, the meet will also mean a little more than usual. Four Hawkeyes hail from the state of Illinois, and Prairie State natives, such as freshman Matt McGrath, have some Illini acquaintances.

“Some of my past teammates are on the team,” McGrath said. “It’ll be interesting competing against them for once. I’m looking forward to it.”

Illinois features a deep roster, excellent skills, and some of the best gymnasts in the country, Dunn said, most notably Illini junior Paul Ruggeri, who ranks third in the all-around and first in both the pommel horse and high bar.

Despite Illinois’ obvious talent, however, the Hawkeyes said their focus isn’t solely on winning this weekend’s dual meet. Instead, they want to hit on every event.

But the meet will be memorable no matter the outcome, Kuklinski said.

“Getting on the floor, seeing all the black and gold in the stands, hearing the fans, and getting in the huddle, and everyone putting his hand in there and screaming the Black and Gold chant,” he said. “I don’t think that’ll ever leave my head.”

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