GymHawks reach goal, want more


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The time is now.

The No. 30-ranked Iowa women’s gymnastics team is set to perform with some of the nation’s best in Columbia, Mo., at the NCAA regional meet at 6 p.m. Saturday.

Iowa is the fifth seed in what is considered one of the strongest regional fields. There are six regionals.

Also competing in Columbia are No. 5 Georgia, No. 8 Oregon State, host and No. 15 Missouri, No. 25 Minnesota, and No. 36 North Carolina. The top two teams will move on to the NCAA championships on April 22 in Gainesville, Fla.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what they’re made of,” Iowa head coach Larissa Libby said about the Hawkeyes. “Whether they can bring it again.”

Beginning in the preseason, Iowa set a goal to qualify for regionals. They started slowly, but the GymHawks hit their stride late in the season, culminating in a third-place finish two weeks ago at the Big Ten meet.

The finish was Hawkeyes’ best in six years. Iowa also posted a season-high team score of 195.575.
Balancing mental and physical stress has been a theme for the GymHawks all season, and that will certainly be a key heading into the meet. Several gymnasts said the team is exhausted in both areas now entering its sixth month of competition.

“It’s been a long season, and it has been messy,” sophomore all-arounder Jessa Hansen said. “But I think we’ve found the right formula, and I hope to keep it.”

Physically, the GymHawks are a little banged up at this point in the year. The most recent members on the injured list are junior Arielle Sucich and sophomore Amy Center — but both plan to compete this weekend.

The Hawkeyes are fully aware of outside doubters, the ones who didn’t think the team could or would make it so far into the postseason. But those same doubters have fueled Iowa down the stretch.

Now critics say there’s no way Iowa will make the NCAA championships — an assertion motivating the squad once again.

Libby is her team’s biggest believer, but she is also a realist.

She knows the type of performance it will take to advance to nationals.

“They proved it once [at Big Tens],” she said. “I think they can do it again. It’s whether they think they can. I 100-percent believe that they are capable in our regional. It’s going to take somebody else making mistakes and us being perfect.”

Junior Andrea Hurlburt vividly remembers Iowa finishing last in its regional meet last season. She wants more this year.

The beam specialist knows the game plan is perfection, but she said the team doesn’t feel extra pressure to be flawless.

“We can use this as an opportunity to prove that maybe we might not be the best team out there, but we capitalize on other people’s mistakes,” Hurlburt said. “I really look at it as a way to go for it, because we don’t really have a lot to lose. I’m not really extra nervous or anything at all.”

By a random draw, Iowa was selected to begin the meet on balance beam — potentially an advantage for the Hawkeyes because the event has been the team’s strongest and most consistent all season. It could also help Iowa open the regional meet with an early edge.

However, it makes no difference to Libby, who has preached another mantra to her squad this season.

“We’ve always said, ‘It’s not where you start,’ ” Libby said. “ ‘It’s where you finish.’ ”

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