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Gymnast Wickus finds comfort zone in Iowa City

BY ALEX FRENCH | FEBRUARY 29, 2012 6:30 AM

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Maya Wickus was the anchor for the Iowa women's gymnastics team's vault lineup on Feb. 24 against Minnesota. Her routine, a 9.85, tied for second place.

That score helped the GymHawks to a season-high 49.075 in the vault.

Wickus has scored 9.725 or better in every meet this season; she has finished in first twice and never lower than third.

The road to Iowa City hasn't been all that smooth for the second-year transfer student from Auburn, though.

"I definitely struggled the first semester [here]," she said. "It was like freshman year all over again; new coaches, new teammates. It was hard at the beginning."

Iowa's coaching staff also said Wickus' change in scenery was rocky at first.

"Last year was a challenge; she had to overcome a mental wall," assistant coach Linas Gavieka said. "All we had to do is be patient and persistent with her."

Wickus was a four-time state vault champion and regional qualifier while in high school in Wisconsin, but she developed that "mental wall" her first year at Auburn, she said. It affected her so much that at one point of her freshman year, then-Auburn coaches Jeff and Rachelle Thompson said she wouldn't travel with the team to regionals if she didn't vault in practice.

Wickus couldn't vault that practice. She didn't not travel with the team.

"I was stressed out; I had trouble getting over the horse," she said.

The Thompsons — who now coach at Penn State — left Auburn at the end of the 2009 season. The Auburn Athletics Department said Wickus could remain with the team if she chose because of the coaching change, but Wickus decided a different atmosphere was the best option.

Head coach Larissa Libby learned shortly thereafter that Wickus was interested in Iowa. The Port Washington, Wis., native pledged her allegiance to the Black and Gold after a few visits to campus.

Libby said she never asked Wickus why she left Auburn.

"I tried not to ask why — we've had a number of transfers, and we're trying to give a fresh start [to each one]," she said. "I don't care what happened there; here, it's carte blanche."

Wickus said the coaching staff was essential in helping ease her switch.

"Larissa completely understood where I was coming from, and Linas and I became really close," she said. "We did lots of drills to help my vault."

Wickus rewarded the coaches when she hit her career-high — a 9.925 at Southern Utah — in March 2011. But she sprained her ankle shortly after, had surgery to remove bone chips and spurs, and stayed in Iowa City all summer rehabbing with trainer John Fravel.

Gavieka said he has noticed a difference in Wickus' performance between this year and the last — and he isn't the only one who has seen it.

"Last year, she was getting used to the team, vaulting, and breaking through that mental hurdle," he said. "This year, she knows how to get through [the hurdles] … some have small ones, and some are more severe. Hers were more severe, but once you get over it, it's more rewarding."


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