Men’s gymnasts finish sixth at Big Tens

BY RYAN MURPHY | APRIL 04, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa men’s gymnastics team went into the Big Ten championships on April 1-2 with hopes of improving on the last-place conference finishes that had plagued the Hawkeyes since 2006.

Although Iowa fell short of that goal by finishing last for the fifth-straight year, it was not a totally unsuccessful weekend.

Despite placing sixth in the team finals on April 1, the Hawkeyes sent two gymnasts to the individual finals the next night. The competition was held at the University of Illinois’ Huff Hall in Champaign.

Senior Mike Jiang recorded a 14.300 on pommel horse, good enough for eighth place and a spot in the individual finals. Iowa’s other individual finalist was Matt McGrath, who placed fifth on floor exercise with a score of 14.750. Two Hawkeyes also finished just outside of the top 10, with 12th-place finishes for Javier Balboa on parallel bar and Brody Shemansky on horizontal bar. A 13th-place finish from McGrath in parallel bar and a 15th-place finish by Zach Cazabon were Iowa’s only other gymnasts to place in the conference’s top 15.

Facing a field of some of the nation’s best gymnasts, the Hawkeyes finished last in every event except pommel horse, where the squad placed third. Iowa hit five of its six routines on the event, and the Hawkeyes’ score trailed only Illinois and Michigan, who were the conference’s top two teams.

In the individual finals, Jiang fell on his pommel horse routine and posted a 12.950, which put the senior in ninth place. McGrath faired slightly better, scoring a 14.300. McGrath, who was ranked fourth in the Big Ten entering the meet, finished in seventh.

Despite his fall, Jiang said coach JD Reive’s new training program had the Hawkeyes at their physical peak entering Big Tens.

“I feel like we had a whole new mentality coming in to the meet, and I think it helped,” he said.

Before the competition, McGrath said it was going to be important for the Hawkeyes to treat it like any other meet. The Hawkeyes responded by turning in a performance that was exactly in the middle of their season scores, with four previous team scores ranking higher than the Big Ten score and four ranking lower.

Illinois claimed the team championship for the third-consecutive year with a score of 355.550, and the Illini also won two individual championships. Michigan freshman Sam Mikulak won the all-around championship and was named Big Ten Gymnast of the Year. While no Hawkeye was named to an All-Big Ten team, freshman Sam Wright was honored as the team’s recipient of the Sportsmanship Award.

The Hawkeyes must now wait to ensure that their season will continue. If Iowa finishes in the national top 12, which is expected, it will compete on April 14 at the National Qualifier at St. John Arena in Columbus, Ohio. The NCAA championships will take place the following two days in the same place.

Reive said it was a good experience despite the outcome.

He said in a release: “We came out here with high expectations and fell a little bit short, but overall, this was the experience they needed to grow as we rebuild this program.”

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