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Libby hopes to boost GymHawks to national prominence

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | FEBRUARY 08, 2011 7:10 AM

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Iowa women’s gymnastics isn’t a standout team. But, head coach Larissa Libby said, “Iowa just isn’t a gymnastics mecca yet.”

Libby and her staff are trying to build the GymHawks’ program to help give the Hawkeyes recognition worthy of their effort and talent. When asked why she wanted to build a stronger program, Libby smiled and said, “I just want to because I think it’s possible.”

Libby was a high-level gymnast during her career. When she was 11, she qualified for the Canadian national team and started competing internationally. At 14, she competed for Canada in the World Championships, and she was the youngest competitor in all the games at the Seoul Olympics in 1988.

After a five-year career at LSU, Libby was offered a job as an assistant coach for the Tigers; she served there for five years before moving to coach under former Iowa head coach Mike Lorenzen. After assisting him for four years, Libby stepped up to head coach, and she is now in her seventh season.

Libby’s high achievements don’t motivate her to build her program. It’s not that she was born and raised a champion that pushes her to build the GymHawks’ program, but instead the sense of self-worth and accomplishment she received from being a successful gymnast.

“I’m so proud and so happy with the things that I did,” she said. “I want everybody to have that. I want all of my kids to have that level of success, to feel that you are so accomplished at something that is so hard. The satisfaction that comes from something like that is something you can never take away.”

But the GymHawks are struggling to get recognition worthy of the performances they’ve given.

Despite the obvious talent of the gymnasts — there is at least one Hawkeye ranked in the top 10 of the region for every event — Iowa’s gymnastics program remains under the radar of recruits and most of its competitors.

Earlier this season, the GymHawks knocked off Michigan in a dual meet on Jan. 22.

“I hope they’ll really see us as a threat — the other Big Ten teams,” junior Jessa Hansen said following that victory.

But even a win over the eighth-ranked, four-time reigning Big Ten champ hasn’t brought Iowa any of the recognition it deserves.

“We kill ourselves to earn that respect,” Libby said. “They’ll get it, it’s coming. You have to prove your legitimacy, and that’s what we’re out there to do, prove not just to others but to ourselves. You can [sense] the air of a champion, but you have to feel like a champion yourself before you can get others to look at you like a champion.”

In a radio interview with the Michigan Insider, on Jan. 28, Michigan head coach Bev Plocki gave no credit or congratulations to Iowa for performing well. Instead, she blamed the loss on the Hawkeyes’ facility instead of Iowa’s talent.

She blamed the weather — Iowa’s low temperature of minus-8 — and said that the Field House was too dark and too hot, calling Iowa’s home gym a “high-school-type facility.”

Since the end of Lorenzen’s career, when he brought the Hawkeyes to two-consecutive NCAAs in 2003 and 2004, the GymHawks have not qualified for nationals as a team. But this season, the gymnasts and Libby are looking toward it.

Finishing high at Big Ten or regional championships, or qualifying for the NCAA championships, would be nothing but a step in the right direction for the GymHawks as they try to build their name and create a winning tradition.

“This is the year where everything is finally falling into place,” Libby said. “We can build from here. I think now we have a total package as far as staff and team and practice, and we’re set to move forward now.”


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