Simbhudas Eyes Nationals...Again

March 30, 2009

Special note: The University of Iowa is the host school for the 2009 NCAA North Central Regional Championships to be staged Saturday, April 4, at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. To purchase your tickets, click HERE.

Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, Aug. 7, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2008-09 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Jenifer Simbhudas was ready to punch her ticket to the NCAA national championships in women’s gymnastics last April. All the University of Iowa all-around specialist had to do was stick her routine on the uneven bars at the North Central Regional meet in Minneapolis and she would undoubtedly be on her way to nationals for the first time in her career.

Then, by bizarre misfortune, Simbhudas watched her dreams tumble to the mat and disappear. Simbhudas hit a bar and broke her nose on a release move, forcing her to jump off because of the large amount of blood.

“I was disappointed,” she said of the injury and the score of 8.350. “I didn’t think it would happen so suddenly. Nothing like that has ever happened to me during a meet before. It caught me off guard that it was over and I wasn’t ready to be done.”

Before the uneven bar competition, Simbhudas posted scores of 9.800 on the vault, 9.725 on the beam and tied for second in the region with a score of 9.900 on the floor.

Fortunately for Simbhudas and the Hawkeyes, CT scans and hospital visits are now a thing of the past.

“Everything is fine now,” Simbhudas said. “It healed up nicely. Every gymnast goes through injuries in their life.”

Although Simbhudas admits to being a “little hesitant” on the bars now, she has moved on and is ready to use the 2008 disappointment as motivation for 2009. Last season the Hawkeyes won their final six dual meets and finished 10-4-1 overall before placing fifth out of seven in the Big Ten Championships and sixth out of six at regionals. UI head coach Larissa Libby has coached Simbhudas for three seasons and she has lofty expectations for the upcoming season.

“Jenifer is poised to have her best year yet,” Libby said. “It has taken until her junior year to make her statement as one of the best competitors in the nation. She has worked hard in the off-season to keep her body in peak condition and she has done a good job putting her body and mind in position to successful.”

“Jenifer is poised to have her best year yet. It has taken until her junior year to make her statement as one of the best competitors in the nation. She has worked hard in the off-season to keep her body in peak condition and she has done a good job putting her body and mind in position to successful.”
UI head coach
Larissa Libby

 

Simbhudas returned home to Markham, Ontario, Canada, for two weeks after classes let out in the spring and returned to Iowa City to assist with a gymnastics camp that was cancelled because of flooding. She then enrolled in a summer class and volunteered with the UI event management staff before returning to Canada. Now a senior, Simbhudas, a health and sports studies major, would eventually like to enter the sports management profession.

Last season Simbhudas was named first team all-Big Ten and was twice honored as Big Ten Conference Gymnast of the Week. As a junior in 2007, she was named second team all-Big Ten and qualified for regionals as an individual.

“My personal goal is to qualify for nationals and ultimately place on the podium at nationals,” Simbhudas said. “Other than that, it’s just doing the best I can, scoring well and cleaning up little things I need to work on.”

Simbhudas is a solid foundation for the UI program to build upon. It is a program that is rocketing skyward with the addition of a talented nine-member freshman class.

“I see this program heading way up,” Simbhudas said. “We have a very young team and it might be a little different transitioning on the competition floor, but I know we can work on it and they can learn.”

A large portion of that learning process will come from upperclassmen like Simbhudas.

“You can lead in different ways,” she said. “It’s easy to lead by example with my gymnastics. I can also give them advice and guide them through on how to compete and carry on at the meets.”

Libby is enthused about watching Simbhudas increase her leadership capacity as a senior.

“Jenifer has a team to back her,” Libby said. “Now we’ll stress more of a leadership role. We want Jenifer to make the effort to be a total-package leader and I’m excited to see that.”

A year ago, Simbhudas was the individual team leader for the Hawkeyes in the vault (9.875), floor exercise (9.950) and all-around (39.450) — with all those scores coming against Minnesota on Feb. 29 when the Hawkeyes compiled a season-high 195.900 team points. She had personal best scores of 9.825 on both the uneven bars and the balance beam. The event favored by Simbhudas is floor exercise.

“The tumbling comes easiest for me,” she said. “I like to flip around. It’s fun and more relaxing. You’re dancing and playing with the judges.”

“I see this program heading way up. We have a very young team and it might be a little different transitioning on the competition floor, but I know we can work on it and they can learn.”

 

Attending college in Iowa was trouble-free for Simbhudas, a native Canadian. She became familiar with the university from former Hawkeye Tiffany Kwan, who was a teammate with Simbhudas at a gymnastics club called Winstonettes.

“I didn’t know where I was going to school because I was so into training for the (2004) Olympics,” Simbhudas said. “Tiffany advised me to come on a visit. I met a few other people on the team who were Canadians, so that was comforting, too.”

Not only did the UI have a Canadian flavor when she arrived, but it added another dose of Simbhudas last season when Jenifer’s sister, Rebecca, joined the team.

“I’ve trained with her throughout my career, so I know her habits,” Jenifer said of Rebecca. “I can be a nag on her at times, but that’s what a sister is for — to try to make you better. It’s comforting to have her here.”

Simbhudas has `bittersweet’ emotions as she prepares for her final campaign as a collegian. She has also come to grips with the fact that her competitive gymnastics career may be nearly fulfilled as well.

“I don’t know if my body can still handle everything,” she said. “Coach Libby and I have joked around about taking two years off and then coming back to train for the 2012 Olympics. We’ll see how that goes in the future. That would be a terrific goal. Right now I’m focused on this season. I don’t know how I’m going to deal with it afterwards.”

Whether this is the swan song for Simbhudas’ career remains to be seen. She is preparing like there is no tomorrow.

“She’s hungry,” Libby said. “She’s challenging herself to be the best in the nation. She feels that she has something to prove. Internal desire and motivation is a powerful, powerful tool.”

Iowa opens the 2009 season on Friday, Jan. 9, competing against LSU and Southeast Missouri State beginning at 7 p.m. inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes have six home dates, including April 4 when they will host the regional competition.