Hawkeyes Aim for Big Ten Title

March 19, 2011

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 — The Iowa women’s gymnastics team opens competition at the 2011 Big Ten Championships today in Minneapolis. The GymHawks have one goal: to be crowned Big Ten champions.

“I expect this team to win a Big Ten championship,” said head coach Larissa Libby. “We expect nothing less than a team title.”

The Hawkeyes know they can compete, but also understand claiming a championship will not be easy. Six of the seven teams in the Big Ten are ranked in the top 18.

“At this point, we are very excited about where the team is both physically and mentally,” said Libby. “The last month of competition, while extremely difficult, has given them a deeper understanding of consistency and the level at which their peak performance is achieved.”

The event is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. at the Sports Pavilion in Minneapolis. Iowa is primed for the competition having battled five Big Ten schools and beating No. 7 Michigan in the UI Field House on Jan. 22.

“We have seen a lot of Big Ten opponents this year,” said Libby. “For us, the confidence boost comes from the win over Michigan. However, we also realize that our win came very early in the season and Michigan is a far stronger team now.”

A good week of consistent preparation is key leading up to the championship.

“We pushed a little harder in the beginning of the week and tapered down towards the championship,” said Libby. “For us, the work has been done. We have prepared for this moment since the day we started competition in January.”

Iowa’s hard work has led to an excellent season thus far.

“This has been an incredible year for this team,” said Libby. “Nobody on the outside expected us to do what we have done throughout the season: nine all-around titles, key wins against Michigan and Iowa State, record setting performances and ranked 14th nationally.”

The accomplishments the Hawkeyes have enjoyed in 2011 were driven by the success found at last year’s Big Ten Championships. The 2010 GymHawks made a statement at last year’s event, finishing third in the team competition. Houry Gebeshian won the title on beam, and Rebecca Simbhudas took fourth in the all-around competition. Simbhudas, who has won seven consecutive all-around titles and nine total this season, was named first team all-Big Ten. Gebeshian and Jessa Hansen were both second team honorees.

“The success from last year’s conference championship is what began the drive to succeed this year,” said Libby. “They have figured out how to approach each meet and learned that when mistakes are made you have to work even harder.”

While Libby knows her team is more than capable, the emphasis will be on the experience and not the outcome.

“We have to accept that we may have a perfect meet and still not win, some of this is not in our control,” said Libby. “I want our team to focus on the total experience and not wins and losses. The team knows what we can control, the rest is out of our hands.”

If their new approach continues today for the Hawkeyes, Iowa will be a major threat. The Hawkeyes have essentially already qualified for the NCAA Regionals. For the first time in six years, Iowa will be seeded, as the top 18 teams earn seeds. The Hawkeyes currently sit at 14th.

“We will certainly be disappointed if we don’t win (the Big Ten championship), because this year we feel like it’s possible,” said Libby. “Every other year, we have been hoping. This time the potential is there.”

The senior class (Gebeshian, Simbhudas, Andrea Hurlburt, and Arielle Sucich) has been a major force in pushing Iowa to the level it has reached in 2011.

“I am so pleased with the leadership the senior class has provided for our team,” said Libby. “Their desire to prove Iowa’s worth has been the driving force for this team all season long.”

For everything the senior class has done and the legacy they will leave behind, Libby and her staff want this championship for them.

“They have worked so hard,” said Libby. “It has not been an easy road. We have kids that believe in the staff, the philosophy, each other, the program, and what they are capable of doing.

“It has been a good ride, whatever happens, we will have no regrets.”