May 19, 2010
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IOWA CITY, IA – University of Iowa gymnast Rebecca Simbhudas was able to take part in something great when she competed as an individual at the NCAA Championships in Gainesville, Fl, April 22. Not only did she compete, Simbhudas finished seventh on beam (9.850) to earn second-team all-America honors in the event, an accolade owned exclusively by her in Iowa record books. Also considering that she was just the fourth individual GymHawk in history to compete in the championships, every Iowa gymnastics fan, coach and student-athlete has surely taken note of one thing: Simbhudas is only a junior and she’ll be returning for one more year.
When the first session was winding down at the NCAA Championships, Simbhudas was well aware of just how close she had come to advancing to the finals, but fell shy. As impressive as all-American status may be, Simbhudas will be the first to tell you that she, or anyone else on the team, is not satisfied.
“The entire experience was new to me, so I wasn’t sure where I’d end up,” said Simbhudas. “I was so excited when Coach Libby told me I made second team all-America. It made the experience all the more memorable for me, but it’s not over yet. It’s just a stepping stone for next year.”
Simbhudas’ all-American honor was well deserved after the Markham, Ontario, native worked her way through a difficult Big Ten meet, onto a fourth place regional finish in the all-around (39.250) and finally to the pinnacle meet in collegiate gymnastics.
“It was interesting to see Rebecca in that element, to see her among the best in the country because I feel like she fit in very well,” said Head Coach Larissa Libby. “It was nice to see the qualities that you knew she always had come out in that moment: independence, discipline, focus and attitude. All of those things were very evident in that setting. There’s nothing better as a coach than to see that light turn on inside of an athlete when it comes together and they finally get it.”
The entire Iowa squad has embodied that similar toughness, especially throughout its 2009-10 campaign. The first several weeks were plagued with injury and a break couldn’t be caught, but then things were straightened out as the Hawkeyes picked up victories over Ohio State, on the road at Iowa State and Southern Utah.
When Libby challenged her team to reach a team mark of 195.000 before season’s end, they reeled off three scores greater than 195.000 in a seven day period. When nobody else in the Big Ten thought Iowa was a force to be reckoned with, the GymHawks placed third at the Big Ten Championships with a season-high score of 195.575, as junior Houry Gebeshian won the title on beam (9.950).
“The entire season only made us stronger as it went because of all the bad luck we had,” said Simbhudas. “Showing that we could overcome that and still succeed was really important for us as a team.”
After their best Big Ten finish in six seasons, the Hawkeyes made their 10th NCAA Regional appearance and fourth in the last six years. The Hawkeyes missed the national cut as they placed fifth as a team (194.900), but not without turning some heads along the way.
With a fourth place individual finish in the all-around and the top three finishers already qualified for nationals through their respective teams, Simbhudas’ NCAA ticket was punched. Junior Houry Gebeshian found herself in a three-way tie for fifth, but missed the invitation after two rounds of tie-breaking criterion.
“Passion will drive Houry to be 100 percent better next year, and I thought she was already amazing this year,” said Libby. “As a competitor she was phenomenal, along with Rebecca, Jessa [Hansen] and everyone that competed for us. I know passion will drive them to be successful because it’s there. It’s within their grasps, they just haven’t touched it and they want to.”
This is naturally the time of year that a team will begin to repair, revamp, and rebuild. Now, for the first time in several years, the Hawkeyes are able to throw out the rebuilding element of the offseason. With just a single senior, Jenny Donar, lost to graduation, Iowa will be able to welcome in a class of freshman while continuing to improve nearly the exact squad from this year. Simbhudas and Gebeshian will prove a strong foundation, while Iowa’s third all-Big Ten selection of 2009-10, sophomore Jessa Hansen, will return with a young, talented and eager group of student athletes.
At this time last year, a handful of seniors were leaving and Simbhudas knew her workouts and mindset needed to be revamped to lead the team. Now that she, along with the rest of Iowa’s lineup, was able to see that process and how it paid off, nearly 20 other student-athletes have six months to make similar adjustments.
With Iowa gymnastics pointed in a positive direction and Libby and the helm, things are only looking up for the GymHawks. The 2010-11 season will surely bring unexpected hurdles, but they’ll be met by nearly an entire team who has experienced such adversities. The team is ready to overcome those obstacles and represent Iowa as a team on the national stage rather than a single student-athlete.
“The precedent is already set,” added Libby. “They’ve seen what has to be done. They know what to expect. Now they can push the entire way knowing what’s going to happen.”