Jan. 22, 2015
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Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Monday, Aug. 4, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2014-15 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — It isn’t enough that University of Iowa junior Matt Loochtan is an All-American in men’s gymnastics.
Loochtan finished seventh on rings at the 2014 NCAA Championships in Ann Arbor, Michigan, with a score of 14.925, earning his first All-America distinction. He intends to keep building in 2015.
“I am hoping for more All-American (honors), that would be nice,” Loochtan said. “On floor and rings and, if I get my full routine back on the floor, I was hoping to be Big Ten champion or NCAA champion.”
Head coach JD Reive enters his fifth season with the Hawkeyes. While Loochtan mentioned floor and rings as possible All-America events, Reive added vault.
“I would like to see him come back with a couple All-America (honors),” Reive said. “He has potential to do it on two other events if he is consistent with floor, vault, and rings. He has some of the best positions we have, and the routines at this point are easy for him, so we can refine and do detail work.”
Loochtan, a finance major, grew up in Hawthorn Woods, Illinois, and attended Stevenson High School. As a youth, gymnastics and baseball occupied most of his spare time. When demands for gymnastics became greater, Loochtan, an aspiring shortstop, pitcher, and outfielder, put down his glove.
“It was either baseball or gymnastics and I chose gymnastics,” Loochtan said.
When he was one, Loochtan’s mother, Sherrie, enrolled Matt in a gymnastics toddler class alongside his older sister. Soon Loochtan was doing flips and catching the eye of an instructor.
“It was pretty exciting and the coach said, `I think he can really do something with this sport,'” said Loochtan, who admitted that his immediate success wasn’t embraced by everyone in his family. “My sister quit two days later.”
A few years passed and when the first competition arrived, Loochtan was more stressed than excited.
“I was scared like every kid would be,” Loochtan said. “I was crying because I didn’t want to put on the little leotard thing we had to wear.”
“His strengths are really good for us. He is great on floor and rings, he has taken a parallel bar routine and added significant difficulty to it, and he is great on vault. He is going to be bringing big scores and is a baller. When you put him out there in a meet, he competes and it brings us leadership and a nice score as an anchor in each event. He is going to give us some direction.”
UI gymnastics coach
Loochtan became comfortable with his uniform and excelled on the gymnastics club circuit, attending events in Houston and Las Vegas before he was a teenager. When it came time to select a college program, Loochtan was most comfortable with Reive.
“I liked the coaches. JD is an inspiring man and he said if you want to win an NCAA championship you should come here,” Loochtan said. “I believed that, and I still believe that, because we’re at the peak and I feel we’ll do well this year and the next couple of years.”
The Hawkeyes return all but one gymnast from a team that placed fourth in their session at the NCAA qualifier in 2014. They have a four-member freshman class, so Loochtan, like the other upperclassmen, is evolving into more of a leader to move the first-year competitors forward.
“His strengths are really good for us,” Reive said of Loochtan. “He is great on floor and rings, he has taken a parallel bar routine and added significant difficulty to it, and he is great on vault. He is going to be bringing big scores and is a baller.
“When you put him out there in a meet, he competes and it brings us leadership and a nice score as an anchor in each event. He is going to give us some direction.”
Iowa opened the season Jan. 17 with a fourth-place showing at the Windy City Invitational in Chicago. Loochtan, who is coming off a back ailment, scored 14.300 on vault, 13.150 on floor, 12.900 on rings, and 12.550 on parallel bars.
Even though the Hawkeyes didn’t achieve the results they wanted, the team stayed strong throughout the competition.
“The first meet of the season always has ups and downs,” Loochtan said. “I’m glad to see we started decent enough to hopefully skyrocket up and do well at the next meets.”
Three of Iowa’s next four competitions will be in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, beginning Jan. 24 when the Hawkeyes host Illinois-Chicago. There are few gymnastics venues as impressive as Carver-Hawkeye Arena, and soon Iowa will have a top-notch practice area in the Field House. A renovation and expansion project is expected to be completed in March.
“It is an honor. I’m grateful that athletics is doing this for us,” Loochtan said. “We’re going to have pits to work in and a nice facility. It will boost our confidence and how we work in general.”
Becoming an All-American isn’t the only thing Loochtan accomplished for the first time last season. He also made the dean’s list, and he intends to land there three more times in his academic career.
“Hopefully I can get the next three semesters figured out,” Loochtan said. “You have to work hard because the balance in gymnastics and academics is equal.”