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Men’s gymnasts enters NCAAs fearless

BY RYAN MURPHY | APRIL 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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Entering the NCAA National Qualifier, the Iowa men’s gymnastics team is not expected to be a contender for a national championship. Even head coach JD Reive acknowledges that qualifying for the team finals is a long shot.

Those low expectations give the Hawkeyes’ motivation entering the biggest meet of the season.

“We know it’s a long shot, so we have nothing to lose,” said Reive, coaching in his first national qualifier in his first year as a head coach. “Everybody’s going to fight for every single tenth of a point he can get out of it.”

Sophomore Matt McGrath, ranked 10th on pommel horse and a qualifier for the NCAA championships in the vault last season, said Iowa gets a chance to surprise the other teams in the competition.

“Teams will look at Big Tens and think that we’re not a threat,” McGrath said. “It gives us a chance to prove them wrong, and show that we can handle our own and put up a good performance.”

The Hawkeyes will compete in the NCAA National Qualifier at 6 p.m. today at Ohio State’s St. John Arena. No. 11 Iowa’s six-team group includes No. 2 Stanford, No. 3 California, No. 6 Michigan, No. 7 Ohio State, and No. 10 Nebraska.

The top three teams from the group will advance to the NCAA championships. Additionally, the top three gymnasts on each event in each session that are not a member of a qualifying team advance to Friday’s competition, which will determine All-American status. The top-10 scorers on each event on Friday advance to individual finals on Saturday, when a national champion will be crowned.

Reive said it will take a nearly perfect meet from the Hawkeyes to advance past the qualifier as a team.

“We’re not totally out of it,” he said. “If we have a flawless meet and we hit 35 out of 36 routines, which is kind of unheard of, but we can totally do it, we have a chance to get into the second day.”

The only Iowa gymnast with experience at the All-American level is senior Mike Jiang. Jiang, an All-American on pommel horse in 2010, said it will take focus to return to that level.

“I need to stay focused and pace myself,” the senior said. “I can’t pay attention to everyone else. I just think about it like another day at practice with no extra pressure.”

To combat the nerves that will come with competing in the biggest meet of the season, Reive said he has tried to get the squad to narrow its focus to the present moment.

“We try to distract them from the bigger picture and get them to focus on one routine at a time,” he said. “It’s my job to get them to know that they have been preparing for this and that they are ready for it.”

Reive also had the team arrive in Columbus on Tuesday to get two full days of practice in at St. John Arena. He said getting the team acquainted with the set-up of the arena would also help the Hawkeyes relax before Thursday.

Jiang said the Hawkeyes can perform well at the qualifier if the team trusts in its routines.

“It’s a new beginning for us,” he said. “We have potential to do well at this meet; we just need to believe in ourselves.”


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