An Anticipated Return

Dec. 26, 2013

IOWA CITY, Iowa — After competing at less than full strength as a junior and using a medical redshirt last season, University of Iowa men’s gymnast Matt McGrath has been working to rejoin the Hawkeyes in 2014.

McGrath, who earned All-America status in vault, set the Iowa school record in floor, and qualified for NCAA event finals in his first two seasons with the team, experienced a cartilage injury in his knee which limited his progress as a gymnast.

Following his junior season, McGrath went through a state-of-the-art surgery named DeNovo NT Natural Tissue, a procedure designed to generate tissue where the cartilage explosion occurred by creating a cushion between his patella and femur.

Due to the extent of his injury and the long recovery time, McGrath and UI head coach JD Reive made the decision to redshirt in 2013 and focus on a full strength return in 2014. McGrath watched the Hawkeyes excel a season ago and earn their most successful postseason showing of the last decade with a fifth place finish at the 2013 NCAA Championships.

“The hardest part about missing last season was also the most exciting thing to see at the same time,” McGrath said. “Watching the success of our team and not being able to be a part of it was tough.

“I saw some spots where I could add points and help out, but I couldn’t do it because of the injury to my knee. Sitting at home and watching them make it to the second day of the NCAA Championship and not being able to be there was rough.”

McGrath used the Hawkeyes’ success last season as motivation to come back stronger and contribute in his final year in an Iowa uniform. He came back slow, using the time off to become mentally stronger and learn to train better and more efficiently.

“I came back slow, but smart,” McGrath said. “I got a lot stronger on rings and added a couple things on my parallel routine because those are two events that I could get after because they aren’t as leg intensive. I got better on those, and when I did come back on floor, it was just like riding a bicycle. Floor and vault came back just like that.”

McGrath took advantage of summer competitions to get back into event shape and show off what he learned and improved on throughout his recovery.

He competed in a field of 71 in the 2013 National Qualifier Senior Division at the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colo., on July 13-14 to secure a spot on the 14-man roster that went on to compete at the P&G Championships in Hartford, Conn., in August. After finishing fifth in floor, 10th in rings, 13th in vault, and 42nd in parallel bars, McGrath secured a spot on the roster and was one of the five Big Ten gymnasts to make the cut.

His performance over the summer combined with his past success, grabbed the attention of the Big Ten coaches. In early December, McGrath was named a Big Ten Preseason Gymnast to Watch. He was one of two seniors in the conference and one of two Hawkeyes to be recognized along with sophomore Jack Boyle.

“That means a lot,” McGrath said. “We have a lot of good gymnasts on the team, so to be 1-of-2 honorees on our team is great. It’s an honor, and I’m excited to show what I can do this season.”

While McGrath has personal goals of attaining All-America honors in three events — floor, vault, and rings — his personal success is not what drives him. Helping the Hawkeyes accomplish their lofty goals of securing top three finishes at both the Big Ten and NCAA championships is what is most important to him.

“I’m excited to see where we can go as a team,” McGrath said. “Last year, I had to sit back and watch. This year, if I can accomplish my goals, I can help the team reach the goals we have set. We’re such a great team now.”

The Hawkeyes open the 2014 competition season Jan. 18 at the Windy City Invitational in Chicago, Ill. The competition is set to begin at 7 p.m. (CT).