Iowa's Hansen overcomes knocks

BY ALEX FRENCH | APRIL 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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Jessa Hansen had to do something she's not used to this season: pace herself.

The Iowa gymnast came into the 2012 campaign with ankle ailments she originally sustained in the summer, then reinjured in preseason.

She said the injuries didn't affect her mindset, though. The only thing that changed was how many events in which she competed.

"I've been working with the coaches and [trainer] John Fravel a lot this year," she said. "Normally, I'm ready to go a month early, but I started a little bit slower this season."

Fravel said injuries on and around the joints — especially the ankles — are common in women's gymnastics. Events such as floor and vault are harder on these joints because of the repetition of impacts.

In Hansen's case, he said, these two events are the last in which athletes with these types of knocks come back to compete.

"Floor and vault are much harder on the body, so we had to pace Jessa a little differently," he said. "We pace [athletes with these injuries] a bit more and take out their harder skills and then add in more difficult skills at the very end of the season."

Hansen — a former Daily Iowan employee — has competed in bars, beam, and floor in each of the three previous seasons she has been a Hawkeye. She featured at all-around in all of Iowa's meets in 2010.

Hansen equaled the former accomplishment but not the latter this season.

She vaulted in Iowa's first meet this season, the Cancún Classic but didn't compete on the event again for over a month. The decision to have Hansen gradually work her way back into the lineup is one head coach Larissa Libby said she's glad they made.

"It's a long season, she's a senior, and it was in her best interest to do it that way," she said. "Hindsight is 20/20, but we made the right decision because she looks her best right now."

Hansen jumped back into the all-around lineup after a one-month hiatus and took first place against Iowa State on Feb. 17 while wearing a back brace. The Clive, Iowa, native said that was when she started hitting her stride physically — but there was still a ways to go mentally, because she couldn't do as many reps in practice as she normally does.

"I had to focus on the mental side this year, I had to become more mentally tough," she said. "I didn't forget how to do my gymnastics, I just had to prepare myself mentally better."

Training techniques such as using timers — easier versions of the skills the gymnast normally does — helped with the mental side because "you don't have to pound your body as much," she said.

Hansen competed in five of Iowa's final six meets at the all-around competition and added two more titles with this thought in hand.

Her third all-around crown came against then-No. 10 LSU on March 9, where a career high 9.9 in beam added to a career-best 39.425 all-around score. Her efforts bested two of the Tigers' top-20 ranked all-arounders, Rheagan Courville and Lloiminica Hall.

"I think I'm starting to peak at the right time," she said. "Ankles feel healed all the way … I really feel better than I have all year."

Libby — whose team will travel to Seattle this weekend for its sixth-straight NCAA regional competition — agreed.

"She's the most confident she's been in her for years [at Iowa], she said. "She trusts herself more, she feels good. When she feels good, you see it in her gymnastics and it resonates through the team."

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

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