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Second-year sensations for women’s gymnastics

BY ROBBIE LEHMAN | MARCH 10, 2010 7:30 AM

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Nine awestruck freshmen arrived in Iowa City about a year and a half ago not knowing exactly what to expect.

Now sophomores, they are having an enormous impact on the Iowa women’s gymnastics team.

“When you have that many people in one class, they tend to dominate what happens on the team,” Iowa head coach Larissa Libby said. “They do a good job just being a positive, influential group.”

GymHawks Amy Center, Rachel Corcoran, Jordan Eszlinger, Heather Fomon, Jessa Hansen, Melissa Miller, Rachel Nash, Jennie Schurman, and Annie Szatkowski make up Iowa’s second-year class, which fills up half of the 18-member squad.

Libby recruited the larger-than-average bunch expecting they would require ample time to learn and develop mentally and physically before competing. But she didn’t anticipate needing to employ nearly all of them into her lineup this season.

“They’re getting the opportunity to compete in pressure situations,” Libby said. “That’s certainly going to help us down the road in the future. They’ve done such a wonderful job pushing hard and training hard, showing themselves as prominent people in the lineup. That class has really been the glue to the team this year.”

One senior, five juniors, and three freshmen round out the rest of the Hawkeye roster. Youth has been a major theme for Libby this season, because the underclassmen double the upperclassmen, 12 to six.

However, the sophomores unquestionably stand out because of their overwhelming number and a collective passion for gymnastics.

Hansen, Center, Miller, Szatkowski, and Eszlinger are all regulars at the moment, and all were instrumental last weekend in Iowa’s posting its two highest scores of the season and two upsets wins over No. 17 Iowa State and No. 21 Southern Utah.

Corcoran was also a strong presence in the lineup to begin the season before suffering a knee injury and undergoing surgery.

The class is a mix of walk-ons and scholarship athletes, and every sophomore knows her role, with all-arounder Hansen undoubtedly standing as the leader in the gym.

The Clive, Iowa, native has consistently placed at the top of the all-around results during her second season.

Fomon, who has battled numerous injuries in her career — including three surgeries — is the morale manager, making her voice heard during practice and meets on the sideline. The product of Iowa City said the class has a special bond as teammates and friends.

“We’re just really close, so we know how to push each other,” she said. “We know when someone needs a hug. We know what the other person needs without her having to tell us.”

Szatkowski, the group’s self-appointed social-events coordinator and frequent mass texter, chose “chill” as the defining term for the sophomores.

The Reno, Nev., native described the sophomores’ relationship as almost telepathic, and she’s extremely enthusiastic about the class’ future.

“Our junior and senior year, we’re going to make up still a big portion of the team and be even more experienced,” Szatkowski said. “More of us are going to be in lineups, so I feel like all of us are going to be doing something and make a huge impact on the team in the next two years — if not this year.”


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