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Big Ten tough as ever

BY CHARLIE GREEN | DECEMBER 05, 2014 5:00 AM

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With seven of last year’s top-10 teams at last season’s NCAA championships, the Big Ten is undoubtedly the power conference of men’s gymnastics.

Led by fifth-year coach J.D. Reive, Iowa is one of those teams, finishing ninth at nationals last season.

“Our goal is to always be on the podium, and it starts in the Big Ten” Reive said. “If do well in conference play, we should be in a good position for nationals.”

Although the past two seasons have seen the Hawkeyes finish in the top 10 at nationals (fifth two years ago), having success in the Big Ten will be no easy task.

Only three teams from outside the Big Ten — Oklahoma (2), Stanford (3), and California (10) — cracked the mark in 2014.

“It’s by far the strongest conference in the country,” assistant coach Ben Ketelsen said. “If we’re competing for the top of the Big Ten, we’re competing for a national title as well.”

Last season, Michigan took home the title at nationals and was far-and-away the best team in the Big Ten. But former Olympian Sam Mikulak has graduated from Michigan, helping to open the door for a multitude of conference teams to emerge this season.

“There’s not a whole lot of separation this year,” Reive said. “It’s going to be a tight race to the finish.”

Iowa’s team is characterized by depth rather than individual standouts. Experienced gymnasts such as redshirt senior Lance Alberhasky, senior Jack Boyle, and juniors Matt Loochtan and Cyrus Dobre-Mofid each compete in more than four events.

That’s versatility — and it may make the difference between average and superior in the race for the Big Ten’s top three teams.

“Depth is the philosophy of how we do things,” Reive said. “The team as a whole is the top priority for us.”

In the most physically demanding of sports, depth can relieve fatigue and injuries late in the season. But for Reive, it serves an even greater purpose.

“Having eight solid guys on a five-person event keeps us on our toes,” Reive said. “Those top five are going to keep pushing themselves if they know there are guys behind them pushing for it.”

On the floor exercise and still rings, the Hawkeyes will try to continue their strong performances in recent seasons. The real concern lies in the vault and pommel horse, where the team has struggled.

Strengths and weaknesses will become more clear after the Black and Gold intrasquad meet on Saturday. But Reive and Ketelsen are not only confident about improvement in the vault and pommel horse, they view both events as potential strengths for the team.

“I think we’ll start seeing the true strengths after the Black and Gold,” senior Brandon Field said. “I think we’re about 95 percent ready for our routines, but we need to clean a few things up.”

The key for Reive is making sure intensity levels do not drop over winter break, so the team’s hard work from the fall and summer does not go for naught.

“It’s important for us to be here training as much as possible,” Reive said. “That way after Christmas, we can hit the ground running.”

Although Michigan, Ohio State, and Penn State are the perennial bullies of the Big Ten, there is one team that Reive would like to beat as much as any other.

“Minnesota is one of those teams I just hate losing too,” he said. “But they keep doing it, so we’ve got our work cut out for us.”

Follow @CharlsGreen on Twitter for news, updates, and analysis about the Iowa men’s gymnastics team.


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