Men's gymnasts disappear

BY JACK ROSSI | MARCH 31, 2014 5:00 AM

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Going into the 2014 season, nobody knew exactly what kind of team the Iowa men’s gymnastics team was. They were coming off a surprising fifth-place finish at the NCAA championships the year before but still, they were an unproven team.

Head coach JD Reive has helped institute a culture among the gymnasts in his four years here, and it has reinvigorated the team. The Hawkeyes finished this season setting records in four of their last five meets and upset two top-10 teams in their final meet of the regular season in Nebraska. Things were looking good, and Iowa had a full head of steam heading into the Big Ten championships last weekend.

But Iowa couldn’t make the most of it. Actually, the Hawkeyes blew it. A seventh-place finish is not what the team is capable of. The Hawkeyes finished the meet with a score of 425.600, well below what they have been putting up lately. Especially after they posted a season high 437.250 in the same exact venue two weeks ago.

They were prepared and ready to go, more prepared than ever, according to the team as recently as last week, but the combination of nerves and individual letdowns contributed to Iowa’s most disappointing meet of the season.  The Hawks last or second to last in four of the six events — that alone is enough to know this was not a good showing. Iowa needed every gymnast at the top of his game to at least finish top three.

Anyone who follows Big Ten gymnastics knew dethroning Michigan was almost impossible when it brings Olympian Sam Mikulak, who won the all-around championship. However, Ohio State is not a team that can put up 445.000 every meet, when both of its best team scores have been at home meets. Iowa beat Illinois and Minnesota to finish off the season, so there isn’t a clear-cut third-best team in the conference and that was the Hawkeyes’ opportunity to make some noise — but ultimately, they couldn’t.

Iowa had four gymnasts qualify to compete in Day 2 of the Big Ten championships: Matt McGrath (floor, rings), Matt Loochtan (rings), Mitch Landau (horizontal bar), and Doug Sullivan (pommel horse). McGrath, Sullivan, and Landau all finished top five in their events. As a team, Iowa may not have shown up, but individually, Iowa’s gymnasts can compete with some of the best.

An advantage of being in the Big Ten is that most of the schools they saw this past weekend will also be the majority of the competition at NCAA championships. Stanford and Oklahoma are the two teams that Iowa didn’t see, and they currently are second and third in the national rankings behind Michigan.

The good news is that the Hawkeyes return home for a week off before heading to Ann Arbor for the NCAA meet. Reive will work the team hard, with nationals the last chance for the Hawks to prove themselves and avoid a long, bitter off-season.

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