Simbhudas Now An Ambassador For The GymHawks At Nationals

April 14, 2010

IOWA CITY, IA – University of Iowa junior gymnast Rebecca Simbhudas found herself in a very unfamiliar position at the beginning of the 2009-10 gymnastics season. The Hawkeyes were down to just one Simbhudas sister after her sibling, Jenifer, was lost to graduation. Even though Jenifer is currently a volunteer coach for the GymHawks, it’s not the same after you’ve been competing alongside someone since you were barely able to walk. Rebecca immediately inherited the task of leading a relatively young GymHawks squad, whether she wanted to or not.

“At first, Rebecca wasn’t sure how to treat the leadership role and we had to talk her off the ledge,” said Head Coach Larissa Libby. “She was so worried about trying to fill Jenifer’s shoes, but I told her it couldn’t be looked at that way, she needed to do it her way and for herself.”

So the Markham, Ontario, native took it week by week as the No. 30 Hawkeyes picked up momentum and crescendoed to an 11-13 record including a third place finish at the Big Ten Championships, Iowa’s best in six years. It seemed to be that as Simbhudas did, so do the Hawkeyes, even as she picked up the second Big Ten Gymnast of the Week honor of her career.

“Once she trusted us, it was neat to see it all come together,” added Libby. “I felt like she got stronger and more comfortable as the season progressed.”

Iowa’s escalating level of gymnastics earned itself a bid to the Columbia Regional in Missouri where Simbhudas led the Hawkeyes once again, this time to a fifth place finish (194.900). She finished within the top five of three events including vault (9.875), bars (9.850) and the all-around competition (39.250) where she placed fourth. With the top three all-arounders competing for teams who punched their ticket to nationals already, two positions opened up including Simbhudas’ number four spot and fifth place which Iowa junior Houry Gebeshian was sharing with two other student-athletes. The tie was broken by criterion where Gebeshian’s second best event score wasn’t enough to carry her post-season any further.

“It was very bittersweet for us,” Libby said. “You didn’t know whether to be ecstatic for Rebecca or heartbroken for how close Houry came. There was a mix of emotions and it was very bittersweet.”

Nonetheless, the long journey will continue for the lone Hawkeye, but comforting familiarities are popping up which may prove to carry Simbhudas through the NCAA Championships and onto the podium.

When Simbhudas takes the floor for the first session in Gainesville, FL, April 22, the events will be elevated on platforms, something that may strike many first-time national qualifiers as intimidating, but not Simbhudas. She’s seen this type of layout multiple times in her experience as a national competitor for the Canadian team. She will also be competing alongside No. 3 UCLA, a team with several Canada-natives who Simbhudas grew up competing with in those same national meets. What many gymnasts will look at as an overwhelming atmosphere, Simbhudas can walk in surrounded with familiarities. An advantage most would love to have.

“Competing on the platform is nothing new for me and neither is competing with a number of girls on the UCLA team,” Simbhudas said. “I haven’t seen some of them since we were world team members, so I’m excited to able to share rotations and compete with them again.”

Regardless of the meet’s outcome, Libby knows that Simbhudas will bring something back for her team that is far more valuable than a medal, national experience. Next season will bring Simbhudas her senior year, but her role as a team leader will only grow and what knowledge and experience she acquires in Gainesville April 22-24 will be golden to the GymHawks of 2010-2011.

“I’m excited to be around UCLA and that caliber of a team,” said Simbhudas. “I’m excited to see what it’s like, but just to be in that rotation with them will be interesting. I’ll be able to come back and tell the team what to look for and what we need to be able to do in order to better ourselves for next year. I think this will only help our chances of making it as a team next year.”

Being the only gymnast representing Iowa will be a new gig for Simbhudas, but she knows that taking it one event at a time will pay off in the end. She also knows that a certain tunnel-vision will be needed to zone everything out for at least four rotations.

“When I start a meet, it doesn’t finish until that last event, that last moment when I know I’ve done my job; when I’ve accomplished what I’ve been working for,” said Simbhudas. “That’s the best feeling. I’m just going to keep on going until it’s over. I’m going to keep doing what I have to.”

National competition will be held in the Stephen C. O’Connell Center on the U of Florida campus and is scheduled to begin at noon (CT) April 22. If Simbhudas should qualify for any event final, she will compete in Saturday night’s finals beginning at 5 p.m. (CT). For ticket information, visit 1-800-34-GATOR or check out the championship page at