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Cox adjusts to GymHawks’ team philosophy

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | MARCH 09, 2011 7:20 AM

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Before freshman Tesla Cox mounts the beam or uneven bars, or steps onto the floor exercise mat, she seeks out Iowa women’s gymnastics head coach Larissa Libby. In a brief moment of eye contact, Cox simply nods her head. It’s her way of saying, “It’s all right, I’ve got this.”

Cox’s confidence is “settling” for the GymHawks, Libby said, but a controlled aura of self-assuredness has been a while in the making.

The season started with Libby limiting Cox’s participation at the Black and Gold intrasquad meet because she wasn’t living up to the team’s expectations in practice.

Then, leading up to the first meet on Jan. 7 in East Lansing, Mich., Cox was suffering from an ankle injury. Paired with a lack of motivation to keep herself physically conditioned and mentally ready to compete, that injury kept Cox out of the regular lineup for the season’s first few meets.

“Tesla loves to compete, but she doesn’t like to practice,” Libby said. “On this team, you have to prove yourself in the gym before you can get out on the competition floor. And that was really difficult for her because she felt like she was capable, but she never proved to us that she was.”

Training at a club gym in South Carolina since her elementary-school days, Cox was the only level-10 gymnast — which indicates one can perform the most difficult routines — on her team. Without performing well in practice, she was automatically guaranteed a spot to compete in meets.

“I came from thinking that I was the best thing, the greatest in the world, a superstar, and then I came here, and it was a reality check that I’m not the best,” Cox said. “I realized that I’m going to have to work — and work really, really hard — for my spots because they’re not just going to be handed to me.”

After being confronted by her teammates, including senior Houry Gebeshian, and her coaches, Cox slowly adjusted to team expectations and became willing to work hard in order to earn her place. As a result, she was awarded spots in the lineup as the season progressed.

“I think it was a hard realization for her because there are 13 other athletes on this team who are competitors who are pushing and fighting to be in the lineups,” assistant coach Caleb Philips said. “But because she absolutely loves competing, she finally realized she was willing to fight for her chance to do it.”

By the GymHawks’ home meet against Denver on Feb. 11, Cox was in the lineup for bars, beam, and floor exercise. But after her floor routine, she limped off the mat and said, “I think I heard my foot pop.”

The mild ankle injury took Cox out of competition for two meets, but within two weeks, for the GymHawks’ home meet against Iowa State Feb. 25, she was back in the lineups on bars and beam, scoring 9.725 and 9.75. She recently rejoined the lineup on floor in an exhibition spot on March 5 against Northern Illinois.

“She did a lot better coping with her injury the second time,” Libby said. “Anything she could do without her foot, she did it. She definitely learned the first time that on this team you can’t sit around if you want to compete.”

Cox’s change in attitude is the result of “a lot of work” from the coaching staff and her teammates and “a lot of growing up” by Cox, said Libby, and the gymnast is grateful for the way her team held her accountable.

“Larissa doesn’t just try to focus on our attitudes just in the gym,” Cox said. “She wants us to carry our good attitudes all the way through our jobs that we’re eventually going to have. She’s taught me that what I’m saying and doing is going to affect other people. She always tells me that they’re trying to build my character, and I’m just starting to realize what that means.”


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