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Memorable year for GymHawks

BY ROBBIE LEHMAN | APRIL 14, 2010 7:30 AM

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Throughout the 2009-10 season, the Iowa women’s gymnastics sought some swagger.

The Hawkeyes didn’t have it at the beginning of the campaign, and the results backed it up. Iowa wasn’t heading toward an NCAA regional berth.

But over a four-month span, Iowa earned a regional invitation for fourth time in six years and finished fifth in the Columbia Regional with a score of 194.900.

“It really was a tremendous year,” head coach Larissa Libby said. “I know when people look on the outside, if they just look at the record and don’t know the kids and don’t know what they’ve been through or what they’ve done, then they’re going to say it was an awful year. But this was probably one of the most successful years in a long time.”

Iowa struggled to find its identity in January. The Hawkeyes placed second three times and lost a dual meet to Illinois. All the while, the GymHawks lacked consistency, never scoring higher than 193.200.

Injuries also influenced the slow start, as did a continually shifting lineup. Once a healthy group emerged, though, Iowa’s team scores steadily rose.

“We figured out how to compete, started trusting each other more,” junior all-arounder Houry Gebeshian said. “I think once we realized how fun it is to win, it just kind of happened, and we became more confident, and we ended up pretty good.”

Libby also called a few meetings, and the Hawkeyes re-evaluated themselves, which proved to be a turning point.

“I saw a higher level of commitment, discipline, dedication, and focus that came through halfway through the season,” Libby said. “I don’t think it was ever about them working hard. … It was more about having a true understanding of what we were up against and what it would take to get the job done.”

The Hawkeyes eventually had success in February, as they had planned. After finishing seventh at the Big Ten championships and sixth at the NCAA regionals last season, their goal was to peak later in year — just in time for a postseason run.

It worked. Iowa upset then-No. 17 Iowa State in Ames and then-No. 21 Southern Utah in Iowa City during the first weekend of March. Climbing up the rankings, the Hawkeyes stood at No. 30.

The team averaged 195.000 points per meet, with a season-high 195.575 coming in a third-place finish at the Big Ten championships on March 27 in Columbus, Ohio. It was the highest finish for Iowa in six years.

Gebeshian earned a Big Ten title in the balance beam after hitting a career-high 9.950.

Gebeshian, junior Rebecca Simbhudas, and sophomore Jessa Hansen carried the squad and consistently amassed more than half of the team score during each meet.

At the NCAA regionals, Simbhudas extended her season after qualifying individually for the all-around. She will compete on April 22 in the NCAA championships in Gainesville, Fla.
Overall, sophomore Annie Szatkowski said, the year was a success.

“It was kind of hard for all of us to accept,” she said about the plan to peak later. “But then we just took it on and decided that it was the best thing. When things started picking up, we got really excited, and that helped carry us through.”


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