Jan. 5, 2010
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The 2008-09 GymHawks ended last year’s campaign in Carver Hawkeye Arena with a sixth place finish in the NCAA North Central Regional. A squad that saw just 14 healthy athletes come season’s end. They began with 21. Call it fate or chalk it up to bad luck, Head Coach Larissa Libby and her Hawkeyes are taking a slightly different approach to the 2009-10 season. Libby is pacing her underclassmen-dominated squad through more strength and conditioning than in years past, with hopes of preventing that unnecessary team filter: injuries.
“I think after every season you look back and try to re-evaluate your program. Take a good hard look at your season and figure out what went right and what went wrong to see if there is an opportunity to make a difference for the upcoming season,” Libby said. “Our biggest hindrance last season was not the gymnastics, but the injuries that kept eating away at our depth. In the sport of gymnastics, I am not certain that you can actually combat injuries, but we have revamped our training regiment to place more of an emphasis on a strong, conditioned body in hopes of having at least less opportunity for injury. We have spent a good majority of the preseason focused on this aspect of our training, now it remains to be seen what happens.”
This preparation will be tested early in the year when the Hawkeyes travel to Ann Arbor to start their season with a meet against Michigan Jan. 9. The Wolverines are the reigning Big Ten champions, and will prove to be a good test for the Hawkeyes.
“Right out of the gate we’ll see the best in the conference in Michigan, and I think that’s going to be a little bit of an eye opener,” Libby said. “Not because of what Michigan is but because it will be the first time that the team will have a good hard look at where they really are and where their potential lies. I don’t believe that our team has truly figured out how great they could be and I am hopeful that this first meet will put their season into perspective.”
The Hawkeyes then host Michigan State and the University of Illinois Chicago Jan. 15 before traveling to Penn State Jan. 23, and hosting Illinois Jan. 30. The Black and Gold downed both Michigan State and Illinois in the 2009 regular season.
“My expectations are simple,” Libby said. “I expect that with each meet we will make an improvement and not go backwards. I expect that by the third or fourth meet the team will understand what needs to be done in order to be truly successful. Finally, I expect that the team I choose to put out on the floor will be prepared, willing to fight, and hungry to win! For now, that’s all I expect.”
February begins with a meet at home against the Buckeyes of Ohio State Feb. 6 followed by a trip to Chicago Feb. 12 to face Illinois, Denver and Nebraska. The Hawkeyes then take on Iowa State twice (Feb. 12 & March 5) in a two week span with a meet at home against Minnesota (Feb. 28) in between.
The Hawkeyes will host their final home meet of the year March 7 against Southern Utah. They will then travel to Louisiana State March 12 before closing out the regular season with a meet against Southeast Missouri March 19 in Camp Girardeau, MO.
The 2010 Big Ten Championships will be held in Columbus, OH March 27 followed by regional competition April 10. With hopes of postseason success in mind, Libby is focusing on helping her athletes with a more manageable approach.
“Our focus is on winning a conference championship,” said Libby. “While I believe we are capable of returning to the National Championship, I really believe that we need to establish ourselves as a consistent threat to win a championship within our own Conference.”
In attempting to set her team on the right path, Libby has chosen a step-by-step approach.
“The goal is almost too broad to focus on,” Libby said. In order to reach the ultimate goal you have to be successful at the little things first. In order to have a perfect meet you have to be capable of executing a perfect practice which comes down to being able to do a perfect routine; it’s a process. We have tried to show the team that the willingness to prepare matters. If you are unwilling to be successful at the process you will never be ready to accept the challenge of winning a Championship! I am hopeful that in keeping them focused on the details, the ultimate goal will not be overwhelming.”
With a youthful squad that has seen plenty of competition due to the injuries last season, the GymHawks will lean on several leaders on the competitive floor. Juniors Rebecca Simbhudas and Houry Gebeshian, a 2009 First Team All Big Ten selection, as well as Arielle Sucich and sophomore Jessa Hansen will play major roles in that leadership.
“Jessa and Arielle have both had great pre-seasons but are not vocal leaders,” said Libby. “They are extremely disciplined, respectful and hard working, but they choose to lead by example.”
“Rebecca knows how to be a vocal leader, but it just isn’t her style,” said Libby. “She is the behind the scenes leader. She has been excellent with the young ones and you will often see her coaching them on the side. We have been extremely pleased with her progress and believe that she will shock a lot of people this year with her new found drive to be the best.”
There will be three new faces to the 2010 GymHawks with multiple combined years of regional and national competition. Oilivia Beatty from Naperville, IL. Emma Stevenson from Winfield, IL and Kaitlynn Urano from British Columbia, Canada. Both Stevenson and Urano were recruited to Iowa with expectations of all-around competition.
The season begins Jan. 9, but Libby sees the three month gymnastics season as an opportunity to improve focus and competitive skill as the team works towards the title in the end. Time will only help this young squad and Libby is excited to see how her team will progress.
“I have always told our team that anyone can win a championship, you just have to have the right combination of people, drive and focus,” said Libby. “I truly believe that we have all of those components in place on our team. Now it is up to them to collectively decide that they are ready and willing to accept the challenge to be the best in the Big Ten.”