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Iowa set for tough outing at nationals

BY CHARLIE GREEN | APRIL 09, 2015 5:00 AM

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In a qualifying group that includes No. 5 Illinois, No. 4 Michigan, and No. 1 Oklahoma, Iowa men’s gymnastics is focusing on one thing for the NCAA Championships on April 9 — hitting as many routines as possible.

“Advancing is going to be about who hits the most sets,” head coach JD Reive said. “With the exception of Oklahoma, whoever hits the most routines is going to get to move on.”

And yes, Oklahoma is that good. The Sooners have been far and away the country’s best team all season, as shown by the numbers.

Their national qualifying average, a measure used to determine seeding for nationals, stands at 447.163. The next best team is second-seeded Penn State, which comes in with a 438.025 average.
As the eighth seed, Iowa’s average is 430.213.

Oklahoma is not just good by this year’s standards, though; it has been a historically great force in the 2015 campaign.

On Feb. 14, the team set a record for points in a meet with 456.400 against Michigan. It took just two weeks for the Sooners to break it again, scoring 457.300 against Illinois on Feb. 27.

Oklahoma’s dominance makes it a virtual lock to advance past qualifying action today, as the top-three teams from each of the two groups will do.

The Hawkeyes making it past the first day likely means they will need to upset Illinois or Michigan — which, in itself, is no small order.

“They just have really high start values on a lot of events, and a few key guys on each event that kind of boost them through their competitions,” senior Will Albert said.

The two programs have been especially successful in recent years; Michigan has won the previous two championships, and Illinois took the top spot in 2012. This season, both teams finished at least 6 points ahead of Iowa in national qualifying average.

The group also includes No. 9 Ohio State, which finished ahead of the Hawkeyes at the Big Ten Championships on March 27.

Iowa’s success will hinge on the scoring in its three worst events — the pommel horse, high bar, and parallel bars.

“Those are the events that we’ve been a little inconsistent with,” senior Lance Alberhasky said. “If we go out and do 5-for-5, 4-for-5, of course we’ll be right up there.”

If they can limit mistakes in those lineups, the Hawks’ strengths on the still rings and vault may be enough to carry them into the final day of team competition for a spot among the nation’s top-six teams.

On the rings, Iowa’s best event, it averages 73.289 per meet, good for third in its group behind Oklahoma (75.350) and Illinois (74.336).

Another quality that favors the Hawks is their core of veteran leaders who compete in the majority of the events. For Reive, these athletes are a pivotal piece to team’s chance at making it through its group.

“In my opinion, we have three athletes that need to show up and be ready to go,” Reive said. “That’s Alberhasky, [Cyrus] Dobre-Mofid, and [Matt] Loochtan. If those guys are on their game, everybody else is in a really great spot.”

The three upperclassmen have proved the ability to score high in any event, but they have been inconsistent recently. Their performance, as Reive noted, has the potential to set a solid base for the rest of the team to build on.

And facing an uphill battle is nothing new to Reive’s program. In 2013, the Hawkeyes finished fifth at nationals despite coming in as the 11th seed.

“[Two years ago], when we went into this meet, we were ranked No. 11, and we made it into the second day,” Reive said. “If we show up it is, at that point, going to be whoever handles their emotions the most mature. That’s our job this weekend.”

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


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