Big Ten Title Quest Kicks Off Friday

Jan. 7, 2011

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Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Antsy, excited and chomping at the bit.

That sums up the approach of the University of Iowa women’s gymnastics team as it prepares for Friday’s season-opener against No. 9 Michigan, Michigan State and Western Michigan in East Lansing. Competition begins at 6:30 p.m., in Jenison Field House.

“We have worked so hard to get to where we’re at, so we’re ready to go out there,” said UI senior Houry Gebeshian, the reigning Big Ten Conference champion on the beam. “We’re anxious and a little antsy to get started, but I think we’re going to do a great job.”

Last season the Wolverines and Spartans defeated Iowa during the regular season, but the Hawkeyes placed third and Michigan State was fourth at the conference championship. Michigan is the defending league titleholder and is again the preseason favorite in 2011. UI head coach Larissa Libby isn’t letting early hype cloud her team’s attitude.

“Internally, our goals are always to be the Big Ten champion, so for us, this is the beginning of that quest,” Libby said. “We’re not going there to play, we’re going there to win; I don’t plan on getting third, I plan on winning and I think that’s part of the difference — it will be a disappointment if we walk out of there with anything less than being on top of the podium — that’s not a mindset we’ve had in the past.”

The Hawkeyes were 7-11 last season and return plenty of firepower. Senior Rebecca Simbhudas is back after being named first team all-Big Ten and earning All-American honors on the beam; Gebeshian was the conference beam champion and junior Jessa Hansen was second team all-conference.

“This team has a lot of talent. We have a very strong, dynamic senior class and that sets us up well. Our senior class has led us in preseason,” Hansen said. “I’m so excited about getting back out on the competition floor.”

Other members of the strong senior leadership corps are Andrea Hurlburt and Arielle Sucich. There are also newcomers like Maya Wickus, who boasts one of the biggest vaults in the league, Tesla Cox and Nicole Pineau, a Canadian national team member who is currently recovering from injury.

“We have a lot of contribution coming from all different areas, rather than just one class. I think it’s going to be exciting to see,” Libby said. “As far as leadership, we have some great leaders on the floor with competitors and non-competitors. Emma Stevenson, who is just a sophomore, is really coming into her own as a leader on this team. She pushes Jessa’s potential every day.”

Because of renovations at Carver-Hawkeye Arena, all of Iowa’s home gymnastics meets will be in the Field House in 2011. It also means that the Hawkeye gymnasts drill next door to the three-time defending national champion wrestling team.

“Our motto is new season, new team, new day,” Libby said. “We’re training with the wrestlers beside us which has been enlightening and amazing. You don’t train with that caliber every day. I’ve learned from them not to give our athletes an excuse to fail. None of my kids have excuses this year. You don’t train beside that intensity and not have it rub off on some level. They live championships, they breathe it, they live it, love it, own it, embrace it….everything they do, they walk, they talk, they breathe championships. I’m hopeful some of that is going to wear off on us and I think some of it has already.”

The Hawkeyes return to the road Jan. 15 at Minnesota before their home-opener on Saturday, Jan. 22, and a rematch against the four-time defending Big Ten champion Wolverines.