Big Ten Championships: GymHawks to host Big Tens

BY ALEX FRENCH | MARCH 23, 2012 6:30 AM

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Hoping. Wanting. Knowing.

All three are characteristics Iowa women's gymnastics head coach Larissa Libby said are common in the sport.

They're also mental stages she uses to describe her team.

"On three events, we're in the knowing. On beam, we're still wanting — but at least we're not hoping," she said. "It's up to them now. There's nothing else [the coaching staff] can do. They're prepared. Now, it's who shows up mentally."

Being comfortable is key in settling nerves in a sport that relies on mental toughness, Libby said.

And for the first time since 2004-05 — her first year as head coach — the Big Ten championship will return to Iowa City.

"We've competed [in Carver-Hawkeye Arena] all year long; we know the equipment, and we have the fans to support us," senior Rachel Cocoran said. "They're all advantages, and we feel comfortable being here."

Iowa finished sixth out of seven teams the last time it hosted the conference championship. The Hawkeyes have finished no higher than third since then.

This time around, eight teams — divided into two four-squad divisions — will compete in afternoon and evening events. The No. 7-seeded GymHawks are paired with No. 8 seed Michigan State, No. 6 Illinois, and five-time defending conference champion No. 5 Michigan. The Illini and Wolverines are ranked Nos. 23 and 21, respectively.

Nebraska, Penn State, Ohio State, and Minnesota — all of which are ranked No. 17 or better in the country — round out the evening match as the top four seeds. Overall finishes will be based on final scores posted by each team.

While Libby said she would prefer to compete in the second grouping, sophomore Tesla Cox said going first could play to Iowa's strengths.

" [Scoring well would] show everyone else that we're here to compete, and it would put a little extra pressure on them to hit," the Greenville, S.C., native said.

Cocoran agreed, and said Iowa's 1 p.m. start time is when the team normally practices during the week.

Whatever the case may be, Libby said, she believes the home familiarity will play a large role in Iowa's performance this weekend.

Not having to worry about such factors as lighting, what the equipment might be like, and where the crowd and judges are located can affect a competitor, she said.

"Those are huge stressors on a gymnast that people don't realize," Libby said. "When you mentally picture yourself doing skills, you can picture exactly where you are [in the arena]. Everything has to feel right."

The Hawkeyes are 2-3-1 and averaged a team score of 194.57 in Carver-Hawkeye. Iowa set season-highs in all four events at home this season.

Libby said she doesn't want her team to enjoy the comforts of home too much, though, because that could negatively affect the GymHawks' performances.

But being at home for the postseason isn't a perk every team has the chance to enjoy, she said.

"We've tried to set everything else aside," she said. "Yeah, we're going for a championship, we're trying to win, but I don't want them to lose sight of this — it's such a great time of the year."

Follow DI women's gymnastics reporter Alex French on Twitter.

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