GymHawks ready to square off against No. 10 LSU

BY ALEX FRENCH | MARCH 09, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa women's gymnastics team will return to Carver-Hawkeye Arena this evening for Senior Night and the Hawkeyes' first meet since they posted a season-high 195.875 in Denton, Texas, in a quad-meet on March 3.

Iowa (6-7-1) will host No. 10 LSU (5-8), a program that is 9-2 against the Hawkeyes all-time — including 2-0 in Carver-Hawkeye — and are fresh off a 196.550-194.875 victory over No. 21 North Carolina State on March 2.

But the GymHawks topped LSU in the Cancún Classic — both teams' first competition this season. Iowa finished fourth, and the Tigers finished fifth.

Head coach Larissa Libby said plenty has changed since early January, though. The Bayou Bengals have climbed four spots in the rankings to No. 10 and haven't posted lower than 196.450 in their last four meets.

Libby — who graduated from LSU in 1996 — said she's looking forward to the challenge.

"It's good to compete against other conferences; the SEC is the best," she said. "In the back half of the season, you want to compete against quality teams, test yourself, and really push the envelope."

Libby competed and coached under LSU's D-D Breaux — who's in her 34th year at the helm in Baton Rouge — for a combined nine years.

A strong performance tonight would be sweet, she said.

"It's special for many reasons," she said. "Every coach hopes to beat their mentor. I hope she'd be proud and not mad."

No matter the outcome though, Libby said, the night will be worth remembering because of Iowa's seniors.

"For [the seniors] to score well and see them contribute to the overall team score would be great," she said. "Their first meet as freshmen was against LSU, and now they're ending with LSU; it's fitting to end that way."

One of those seniors, Jordan Ezslinger, said returning home will help the GymHawks feel comfortable against their highest-ranked opposition of the season.

"It means a lot," she said. "The excitement of the crowd, under the lights — it's an atmosphere we thrive in."

Iowa is 2-2-1 at home this season, averaging 194.34 in overall score. Its season-high at home — 195.150 — came in a loss to Penn State on Feb. 3.

And while the Hawkeyes have yet to defeat LSU in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, sophomore Tesla Cox said squaring off against one of the SEC's best could play to Iowa's advantage.

"They're coming from a conference with a better reputation, so it's like being an underdog," she said.

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