GymHawks upperclassmen expected to dominate


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Head coach Larissa Libby is looking for a "no fall" season for the Iowa women's gymnastics team this year.

The season will begin with the Black and Gold intrasquad meet on Saturday, and the coach hopes that, beginning with this meet, not a single gymnast will fall in any event that counts for team score.

It's a lofty goal, especially considering that the team's only two freshmen are injured and unable to compete in full routines. This is the second season in a row that has started off with underclassmen injuries.

Last season, the GymHawks started with three injured sophomores in the first four weeks of competition, forcing the team's juniors and seniors to account for most of the team's scoring. And again this season, with both freshmen injured, the seniors will contribute 50 to 60 percent of routines, Libby said.

The seniors aren't intimidated by the expectation.

"For the past three years, Becky [Simbhudas] and I have been all-arounders, and we've had that job already," senior Houry Gebeshian said. "We know what to do, we know how to hit our routines, and we know how to compete, so I don't think it's any different from years past."

Gebeshian and Simbhudas do know how to compete.

Last season, after the team scrambled to fill routines following four GymHawks injuries, Gebeshian won a Big Ten title on beam and Simbhudas qualified for the NCAA championships and earned an All-American title on beam. The seniors led the team to a third-place finish in the Big Ten after they were predicted to finish last in the preseason.

New to competition this year are freshmen Tesla Cox and Nicole Pineau. Cox is recovering from an ankle injury and Pineau from a back injury, so for them, the season will have a slow start. The transition into college gymnastics is routinely tough for the freshmen.

"They're just not transitioning as well as we'd hoped," Libby said.

Instead of risking further injury in competition, Cox and Pineau will train to build more endurance before entering the lineup.

The seniors' leadership abilities and motivation throughout this season will be a major factor in helping the underclassmen prepare to support the team.

"The senior class sets an example for the young ones," Simbhudas said. "We're doing what we have to do to help the rest of the team get going."

With the change in the Big Ten to include Nebraska by next year, the GymHawks will face yet another tough competitor. To prepare for the challenge, Libby is raising expectations for the team, in part by announcing her "no fall" goal.

"It's a pretty big goal, especially with some newcomers who haven't competed yet," Gebeshian said. "I think it's obtainable if people fight for it."

How obtainable the goal is will be revealed Saturday. The meet is a chance for the GymHawks to see where they stand upon entering the competitive season.

"There are some people that absolutely rise to the occasion under adrenaline and love to compete," Libby said. "But there are those, also, that fear competition. And that's what we need to figure out — which one of those we've got."

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