April 8, 2008
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — For the better part of two decades, Jenifer Simbhudas has rolled, flipped and vaulted her way to prominence in the gymnastics community. This season the University of Iowa all-around standout has led the Hawkeyes into the postseason for the first time since 2005.
“This is really important for us because we’ve worked so hard to get to this point as you can tell by our ranking,” Simbhudas said. “We’re definitely excited and we’re working really hard. We want to earn a spot to nationals because we definitely deserve it.”
The UI received a bid to the NCAA regionals held at the University of Minnesota on April 12. During the regular season the Hawkeyes finished 10-4-1 with a fifth-place showing at the Big Ten Championships. Iowa was rated as high as No. 19 in the nation.
Simbhudas had an incredible junior campaign that saw her win the all-around competition at seven meets, score 9.9 or higher four times in the floor exercise and become a first-team All-Big Ten Conference selection. She was named to the second unit a year ago. The improvement has Hawkeye fans wondering what heights Simbhudas will reach as a senior.
“It will be pretty-much give it my all because I will never do gymnastics again,” Simbhudas said. “Basically I expect to get better. I want to do better, I want to break more records, get higher scores and make it to regionals and nationals.”
For her career, Simbhudas has high scores of 9.90 on the vault, 9.825 on the bars, 9.875 on the beam and 9.950 on the floor. Her best all-around score is 39.450. Simbudhas takes a special liking to the floor and vault.
“The floor is more fun, it’s more relaxed,” she said. “You don’t have to mentally think about it as much. Vault is just run down the runway, punch and land — easier said than done.”
It has been a year-long run of dominance for Simbhudas, who was twice named Big Ten Gymnast of the Week (Feb. 13 and March 5). UI head coach Larissa Libby was named Big Ten Coach of the Year this season as well. The bond between Simbhudas and Libby goes back many years to their days in Canada. Simbhudas is from Markham, Ontario, just outside Toronto, and Libby was a member of the 1987 and ’89 Canadian world championship teams.
Simbhudas began gymnastics at age 4 and started competing at age 6. She began at the Markham Gymnastics Club and later moved to the Winstonettes, the same club Libby attended.
“Coach Libby knows my background in gymnastics and how I was taught at a young age,” Simbhudas said. “She works with you one-on-one in the gym figuring out what your weaknesses are and what your strengths are. She’ll work it out with you so you’re comfortable with it and so you aren’t doing it on your own.”
“Initially I came to the school because of (UI graduate) Tiffany Kwan, who was a teammate of mine at Winstonettes. She advised me to come on a visit to Iowa. That definitely influenced me to come and after I visited, I really liked it because I knew other Canadians on the team. Just being familiar with people from home really influenced me to come to the school.”
For Simbhudas, there was more than Coach Libby who provided a level of familiarity in Iowa City.
“Initially I came to the school because of (UI graduate) Tiffany Kwan, who was a teammate of mine at Winstonettes,” Simbhudas said. “She advised me to come on a visit to Iowa. That definitely influenced me to come and after I visited, I really liked it because I knew other Canadians on the team. Just being familiar with people from home really influenced me to come to the school.”
To top it off, in January, 2008, Rebecca Simbhudas — Jenifer’s sister — enrolled at the UI and joined the Hawkeye gymnastics team.
“I see her every day in the gym,” Jenifer said. “It’s just like old times when we used to train together.”
Simbhudas is pursuing a degree in health and sports studies. She enjoys the literal and figurative closeness present at the UI.
“It’s a very close atmosphere with college students in one area rather than being spread out,” Simbhudas said. “I like how everything is so close. It’s really important having everyone on campus. It’s really easy to meet a lot of friends here.”
Because of success in gymnastics, Simbhudas said she has become satisfied emotionally. UI fans are already looking forward to a final season with Simbhudas leading the Hawkeye charge.
“After next season, gymnastics at the elite level will sadly be done for me,” Simbhudas said. “I love the sport but I don’t think my body can take it as much as I would like it to do.”
One thing is certain: Simbhudas will leave a lasting imprint on the UI gymnastics program — and the Hawkeye record book.
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