Jan. 16, 2014
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By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The trek to April and the NCAA Championships begins Saturday for the University of Iowa men’s gymnastics team at the Windy City Invitational in Chicago.
The Hawkeyes placed fifth in the NCAA team finals a year ago, and the task now is to not only repeat, but improve upon, that performance.
“I’m looking forward to putting this team on the floor as a group,” UI head coach JD Reive said Thursday at a media gathering in the Field House. “We have a tight-knit group of kids, we have been training well, and now it’s time to put them out there and let them do their thing.”
Iowa is ranked eighth in the nation and sixth in the Big Ten. The Hawkeyes will see league foes Illinois, Minnesota, Michigan, and Ohio State on Saturday in the season opener.
“We have to go out there and hit our sets and show that we’re up there and can contend,” UI junior captain Lance Alberhasky said. “It is a little disappointing that we started out eighth this year because we finished fifth last year. It’s more motivating to show people we’re one of the top teams.”
“I’m looking forward to putting this team on the floor as a group. We have a tight-knit group of kids, we have been training well, and now it’s time to put them out there and let them do their thing.”
UI head gymnastics coach
Last season the Hawkeyes placed sixth out of seven programs at the Big Ten Championships, trailing Michigan, Penn State, Minnesota, Ohio State, and Illinois. They get a crack at four of those five Saturday.
Returning to the lineup for the Hawkeyes is redshirt senior Matt McGrath, the school-record holder in floor exercise (15.500), who missed last season because of injury.
“I took some time off physically and got a little sharper mentally,” McGrath said. “I am training a lot smarter than I have in a while. We’re throwing a pretty healthy team out there and we’re prepared.”
McGrath and sophomore Jack Boyle were selected to the Big Ten Preseason Gymnasts to Watch List. Boyle competed in all 11 meets as a freshman, placing 10th in the all-around at the Big Ten Championships and 19th on the high bar in the NCAA Team Finals.
“Everyone is comfortable with where they are now so I think we’re in a good place,” Boyle said. “We want to see how we compare to the team last year and if we are building or if we need to work harder.”
The opening event is the only time the Hawkeyes will compete in January. It provides the start that will answer a lot of questions for Reive as Iowa moves toward its ultimate goal four months down the road.
“The first one is always nerve-wracking no matter how well prepared you are,” Reive said. “I’m more comfortable with this one than I have since I’ve been here. We have put a lot of time in, we have moved everything forward to get a little extra time doing routines. It is still early.”
The 44th annual Windy City Invitational is hosted by Prairie Gymnastics Club and begins at 7:30 p.m. (CT) at the University of Illinois-Chicago PE Building.
“Our big thing is periodization for postseason April,” Reive said. “Every weekend has a specific purpose. We’re prepared. If they trust in their training and don’t get freaked out and nervous, they will do their job.”