Now Or Never For GymHawks

April 2, 2009

IOWA CITY, IA – For Iowa head coach Larissa Libby, there is no such thing as a moral victory. At this point in the season, her mission, and the mission for each of the 21 GymHawks, is abundantly clear: win Saturday’s NCAA Regional competition.

“There is no prize for third place this time,” Libby said. “We told them if you are coming to Regionals hoping to finish third, you might as well not show up.”

The GymHawks are coming off of a disappointing seventh place finish at the Big Ten Championships, but managed to qualify for NCAA Regionals for the second-straight year and third time in the previous five. Despite season-ending injuries to five Iowa gymnasts and relative inexperience in the lineup, Libby knows this is hardly the time of year to start making excuses.

“This meet is totally within our control, and that’s where it needs to stay,” Libby said. “At the end of the meet Saturday, we want to look back knowing we gave it our best shot. We don’t want to look back with regrets.”

Iowa has a home court advantage Saturday, with the meet being held inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The GymHawks are familiar with the equipment, the surroundings and the buzz that centers around having a home meet. It also doesn’t hurt that Iowa has won their last four home meets this season.

“I think to be able to compete at home takes out some uncertainty with our kids, but it adds pressure at the same time,” Libby said. “They don’t think they have any less of a shot. On any day, any team can win.”

After the Big Ten Championships concluded March 21, Libby and her staff had two weeks to prepare the GymHawks for their biggest challenge of the season to date. Last week, Libby intensified each practice with the aim to sharpen the littlest of details.

“It’s no longer about gymnastics. It’s a mental makeover,” Libby said. “They’re training very hard and have the skills. They know what’s at stake.”

“This meet is totally within our control, and that’s where it needs to stay. At the end of the meet Saturday, we want to look back knowing we gave it our best shot. We don’t want to look back with regrets.”

Larissa Libby

Part of Iowa’s “mental makeover” meant a break from gymnastics all together. Last weekend, Libby gave the GymHawks a weekend off with no gymnastics obligations at all. To Libby, it was a chance for her team to get a mental break.

At least the GymHawks know where they will begin Saturday’s meet. At the Big Ten Championships, Iowa started on balance beam to a less-than-stellar 48.225. Though the GymHawks performed greatly over the next three events, the underachieving start on beam clouded their chances of a Big Ten Championship.

Come Saturday, the GymHawks will start the meet in a familiar place: the beam. This time, Libby hopes for a much different result.

“In our sport, it’s not about how you finish; it’s how you start,” she said. “There are no comeback kings here. We’ve got to start well.”

To try and shake the rust on balance beam, Libby used last week’s practice time to attempt to duplicate the experience of what it will be like Saturday. The radio which normally blares at barely audible levels inside the Fieldhouse was amped up to maximum with the aim to test her competitors’ concentration. The tactic seemed to work.

“A great beam score is what we lacked at the Big Ten Championships,” said senior Jenifer Simbhudas. “We’ve got to clean up the little things, but we still want to go nuts and crazy.”

Libby acknowledges there won’t be any changes in the lineup. Making a change this late in the season could cause chemistry issues. Instead, Libby is thinking about moving people around in order to maximize not just the scores, but also the confidence level.

With only two days left until Regionals, Libby had but one message for her team.

“Don’t accept defeat,” Libby said. “You’ve got to expect to win. It’s do-or-die time.”