GymHawks Defeating the Odds

April 5, 2013

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 University of Iowa women’s gymnastics team has been selected to compete in NCAA Regional competition for the sixth-straight year under head coach Larissa Libby, despite the odds the team faced in 2013.

Iowa, one of 36 teams nationally selected to NCAA postseason action, will join No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 11 Stanford, No. 14 Penn State, No. 22 Washington and Southern Utah in the Norman, Okla., Regional. Competition will begin at 4 p.m. (CT) on Saturday in the Lloyd Noble Center.

The sixth-straight appearance shows the consistent success the program has enjoyed under Libby.

“This appearance garners respect for everybody in our program,” said Libby, “It is hard; if it was not hard, every program would qualify. It is not something that is handed to you. You have to put yourself in a position to qualify.”

A young Hawkeye team overcame the odds to reach the postseason this spring.

“Should we have qualified this year?” asked Libby. “The odds would say no way. This year, especially, I am very proud of this team. We have had obstacle after obstacle thrown in front of us.”

The majority of GymHawks are underclassmen, with nine freshmen, four sophomores, three seniors and zero juniors.

“I cannot say enough about the standard they have held in a time they could have given up. They do not make excuses. I could not have asked this team to do more, given the circumstances.”
— UI head coach Larissa Libby

“We started the season with a very young team with the majority of our routines coming from the freshmen and sophomore class that really do not fully understand NCAA gymnastics at the highest level,” said Libby. “It was difficult, because you are precedent-setting and teaching the whole year. That is the beauty of having upperclassmen, you are not teaching and everyone knows what is expected.”

Iowa has continued to progress, despite losing three mainstays in the lineup, and a third of its routines, in a matter of two weeks. Sophomore Jessica Morreale and freshman Alyssa Lopez endured season-ending injuries, before senior Kaitlynn Urano suffered a broken leg the day before senior night against Iowa State.

The Hawkeyes overcame the adversity thrown their way, downing the Cyclones (196.375-194.575) with a season-best score to clinch the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series.

With Urano out, 20 of Iowa’s 24 routines are performed by underclassmen.

“It is so ironic that our theme this year was `Challenge Accepted’,” said Libby. “You cannot measure how proud I am of this team. To ask them to buck up and compete at the highest level in Division I gymnastics… that is a hard position to be in.”

Maryah Huntley, a former UI cheerleader, joined the squad prior to the Big Ten Championships. She learned her floor routine less than a week prior to competition and anchored Iowa’s lineup, scoring a 9.800 in her collegiate debut.

“We went to Big Ten’s, and put kids in the line-up at the last second,” said Libby. “We took a cheerleader, who had not done gymnastics for two and a half years, and put her in the line-up.”

Despite difficult circumstances, the GymHawks continue to fight.

“I cannot say enough about the standard they have held in a time they could have given up,” said Libby. “They do not make excuses. I could not have asked this team to do more, given the circumstances.”

The mantra early in the year focused on team unity and camaraderie. That still holds true.

“I do not think we would have gotten through it if the team had not developed such a great camaraderie and passion to win,” said Libby.

Now, the Hawkeyes are concentrated on finishing strong.

“They have put themselves in a position to win, and expect to win,” said Libby. “They have trained so hard and are very focused on finishing the season out right.”