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Women's gymnastics suffers from 'sickness' against Minnesota

BY ALEX FRENCH | FEBRUARY 27, 2012 6:30 AM

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Iowa women's gymnastics head coach Larissa Libby gathered her team in the northeast corner of Carver-Hawkeye Arena in between its third and fourth events on Feb. 24.

Three Iowa gymnasts had fallen off the balance beam a few minutes earlier. The Hawkeyes trailed No. 22 Minnesota, 147.250-145.875, going into the floor exercise, their highest scoring event this season and the final chance to make up the point differential.

"She wanted us to keep up the energy and bring the excitement to the floor," Kaitlynn Urano said. "Obviously, we struggled on beam, so we wanted to bring in the crowd and get them excited."

But a comeback was not to be. Uncharacteristic falls by Rachel Corcoran and Jessa Hansen — the first time for either gymnast this season — meant the GymHawks fell short of their Big Ten rival, 196.250-194.100.

Iowa started the meet by scoring season-highs on both vault and uneven bars — 49.075 and 49.200, respectively — and the Hawkeyes seemed confident and poised.

Emma Willis and Maya Wickus both scored 9.85 on vault, which tied for second place. Junior Emma Stevenson won her third-consecutive uneven bar title with a 9.9 — her career-high for the event.

But the balance beam gave Iowa trouble, as it has more than once this season.

"When we're walking from bars to beam, it's a complete question mark if we're going to hit or not," sophomore Tesla Cox said. "After bars, we were all really pumped, but once that first person goes down [on beam], it's hard to come back from that. And then the second person wobbles, the third person goes down — that's contagious."

Libby called it "a sickness."

"We have to get the starter to hit," she said. "It's not basketball — you can't have a Matt Gatens to shoot the 3 for you, only one person gets to go. You can see on the first two events — the starter hits, and it carries. The starter misses, and it puts a lot more stress on everybody else to stay up."

Libby said the team has tried several different approaches to the beam, from switching the lineup to switching the beam itself and even changing how the team trains.

But the Hawkeyes who train in the gym during the week aren't the same ones that compete each Friday night, she said.

Urano agreed, saying the team did nearly 80 clean beam routines the week before the meet.

"In practice, there were three falls for everyone that [practiced beam]. In one competition, we fell the same number of times we did all week," she said. "We're better than what we're scoring; we just haven't been able to bring it all together on the day that counts, which is unfortunate."

The "night and day" difference between the team in the gym and during meets had Libby at a loss for words. She said this is the most bewildered she has ever been in her 12 years coaching at Iowa.

Libby gathered her team once again after the final event of the night. Cox said Libby told her gymnasts there's only so much coaching can do at this point: It's ultimately up to the gymnasts themselves.

"It's on us, on the beam, in that moment," Cox said. "It's not coaching, it's the athletes who need to do the job. If we want to be champions, we need to show people that."


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