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GymHawks look back to prepare for regional

BY MOLLY IRENE OLMSTEAD | APRIL 01, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa women’s gymnastics team traveled to Corvallis, Ore., on Thursday, the site of its NCAA regional competition.

At 6 p.m. Saturday in Oregon State’s Gill Coliseum, the GymHawks will take on No. 3 Oregon State, No. 10 Nebraska, Michigan State, Southern Utah, and San Jose State. The top two teams will advance the NCAA championships on April 15-17.

The Hawkeyes are coming off of a tough loss at the Big Ten championships, finishing sixth with a team score of 194.85, but they aren’t dwelling on the loss. Instead, they’re focusing on the great strides they’ve made since their last regional appearance, in 2010.

Iowa went into the regional competition last year ranked 30th, but this year the Hawkeyes have jumped up to the 15th spot. The GymHawks’ average team score between the two seasons improved from 194.04 in 2010 to this year’s 195.2.

“To not do well [at Big Tens] for no reason was awful,” head coach Larissa Libby said. “But we’re using that notion that we’ve improved 15 spots in the rankings — that we’ve cut our old rank in half — to put everything back in perspective for the team. We had a disaster of a meet, but if you look at those numbers, you know it can’t possibly erase everything good we’ve done.”

In a study that compares the NCAA head coaches’ preseason predictions to end-of-the-year rankings, Iowa was found to have shown the greatest difference between expectation and reality.
NCAA coaches expected Iowa to be ranked 31st by the time regionals came around, but they bettered this prediction by a staggering 16 spots.

These numbers and statistics are reassuring for the anxious GymHawks as they prepare to take on regionals.

“All of the major mistakes that happened to us at the Big Tens were flukes,” senior Andrea Hurlburt said. “And because they were flukes, we haven’t focused on them at all. If we think about the 12 other meets we had, it’s obvious that we did really well. And that shows that we’re much more likely to do well at regionals than have another bad meet.”

The GymHawks have seen three of their competitors before — Nebraska, Michigan State, and Southern Utah — but because Iowa itself has proven that expectations are easily broken, the Hawkeyes are looking at each team with a blank slate.

“We’re not so naïve to think that Michigan State, Southern Utah, and San Jose can’t beat us because we believe that on any given day, we can beat Nebraska and Oregon State,” Libby said. “You have to have a philosophy going in to this with new life and that everything just starts over.”

With this new life, the GymHawks have a chance to qualify for nationals. The top two finishers from each regional will move on to the NCAA Division-I championships to be held in Cleveland.

When the GymHawks discussed goals during the preseason, Hurlburt said, she thought aiming for nationals was too ambitious. But after seeing the team compete in its first meet against Michigan State on Jan. 7, Hurlburt realized the Hawkeyes finally had a chance of making it — a chance they will fight for this weekend at the Corvallis regional.

“Nationals are at stake,” junior Jessa Hansen said. “That’s the reality, and our coaches are trying not to put pressure on us, but the reality is either we make it to nationals or we don’t. Regardless of that outcome, we’ve had an extremely successful season, but we’re not finished yet. We’ve been strong all season, but we’re going to finish even stronger.”


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