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Iowa gymnastics takes down the reigning champ

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | JANUARY 24, 2011 7:10 AM

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The Iowa women’s gymnastics team’s meet against Michigan on Jan. 22 began with senior Arielle Sucich sticking her landing on vault. It ended with three nearly perfect floor routines from junior Jessa Hansen and seniors Rebecca Simbhudas and Houry Gebeshian.

The entire meet wasn’t perfect, but despite losing sophomore Kaitlyn Urano to concussion during her floor routine warm-up, despite some shaky dismounts and a few wobbles, and despite facing the Big Ten’s toughest competitor, the GymHawks won, 195.375-194.9, in the Field House.

For head coach Larissa Libby, the victory isn’t the 0.475 point difference that lifted Iowa above the reigning Big Ten champions but the way the team accomplished the upset.

“What I’m excited about is the trust, the teamwork, the ability to hit, to not give in,” Libby said. “That’s just not where we’ve been in the past. The mentality they’re carrying now, I can see it. They’re determined to be champions.”

The victory can easily be attributed to the GymHawks’ teamwork. After losing Urano during warm-ups, the Hawks had to compensate with depth. Freshman Tesla Cox was thrown unexpectedly into the bars lineup and junior Annie Szatkowski into floor, but instead of buckling under the pressure, both athletes delivered personal bests of 9.75.

“To step up and help my team, knowing that my routine counted, was the greatest experience I could really ask for,” Cox said.

Hansen also delivered crucial routines that contributed to the victory. After struggling with her vault for the past two weeks, she found the courage to plant her feet and stick the landing, finishing with 9.725.

From the first rotation on vault, the GymHawks knew the meet was winnable if they worked hard enough, and the excitement continued throughout the competition. By the time they stepped onto the floor exercise mat for the meet’s final rotation, the adrenaline had climbed to a peak.

“I thought I was going to be sick,” Libby said. “But when I saw Jessa [Hansen]’s floor routine, I knew we had it. There was no way we were going to come down from that.”

Hansen scored a career-best 9.925 and was followed with remarkable scores from Simbhudas (9.8) and Gebeshian (9.725).

The Hawkeyes had defeated the four-time reigning conference champ and created a promising season for themselves.

“I hope [the Big Ten] will see us as a threat,” Hansen said. “We’re good this year. We have this fire, and this passion, and this determination. This is going to be a good season.”

The No. 17 GymHawks’ upset of the No. 7 Wolverines preludes more than a “good season.” Coming into the meet, the Hawkeyes felt they had an opportunity to prove themselves as worthy competitors to Big Ten rivals who don’t consider the Hawkeyes a threat.

“These kids are killing themselves and working so hard just to have themselves seen as equals — not even better, just equal,” Libby said. “They deserve that and they proved it tonight.”

Libby admits that the upset might not change anything in the eyes of Iowa’s critics, and she will ensure that the victory will not change the way the Hawkeyes train. They hope to maintain the same mentality during practice, to focus on one day, one routine, and one skill at a time.

Winning against Michigan doesn’t change who the GymHawks are, it merely shows their audience what theycan do.

“We’re just … Iowa,” Libby said. “And that’s the way we like it.”


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