IOWA CITY, Iowa — After training in alternate facilities throughout the competition season, the University of Iowa men’s and women’s gymnastics programs have moved into and are enjoying their newly renovated and expanded practice facility inside the UI Field House.
The project — which began in December — doubles the footprint of the former facility, provides an elite training environment, and allows Hawkeye student-athletes to expand their skill sets safely.
“It’s fantastic and it’s great to see it in use by the student-athletes,” Director of Athletics Gary Barta said. “My philosophy first starts with great people; Larissa Libby and JD Reive are great leaders. They recruit men and women who want to come here and share our values. But then you have to give them the tools. That’s been the missing ingredient.
“They’ve been doing it with one hand tied behind their backs because the facility was aged. Now it is more than twice the size, the ventilation and lighting is better, and the coaches had the opportunity to design the landing areas and the runways. It’s phenomenal.”
Both head coaches are excited for the benefits the upgraded facility has already provided for their respective programs. The investment the athletic department at Iowa has made in the sport of gymnastics is a difference maker in many ways.
The women’s program, which earned its seventh NCAA Regional berth in the last eight seasons in 2014-15 and saw great success at the Big Ten Championship, posting its highest team score since 2004 and best team result since 2010, is excited to use the facility as a spring board to the next level.
“It’s been such a blessing to hear Iowa is 100 percent supporting women’s gymnastics,” head women’s coach Larissa Libby said. “In a time where rules are changing and things are changing everywhere, you want to hear that. You want to hear that your athletic department has your back and is supporting your student-athletes and helping expand those opportunities.
“It makes a world of difference to how we approach every day, how we approach recruiting, and that in itself has been amazing. To be able to say before these are the drawings, and now here it is in such a short time has already opened doors for us. We couldn’t be more excited and feel very blessed to have that support.”
The men’s team is equally excited to reach higher heights after making a national statement in 2014-15 with a sixth place team result at the NCAA Championship and seeing its sixth student-athlete in the last five seasons garner All-America accolades.
“It’s motivating,” head men’s coach JD Reive said. “There is so much we want to do in our world of men’s gymnastics. For the administration to make this investment is a huge nod of trust, which we are grateful for. We put a lot of work and energy into this, so having them provide this opportunity for us and these resources; we couldn’t ask for more than that.”
Hawkeye student-athletes in the gym have taken a `kid in a candy store’ approach and the excitement surrounding the renovation has created quite the buzz. They are taking advantage of the new additions, using foam pits and trampolines to grow and advance their skill sets.
“They act like they’ve never been in a gym with a pit before, it’s just been a long time for some of them,” Libby said. “They’re full of pure exhilaration and excitement. I keep saying the word opportunities, but that’s what it provides. It expands opportunities on so many levels for us. What could be and the potential is so exciting right now.”
“They came in and started doing things they’ve wanted to do for years, but we didn’t have the means or the capacity to do safely,” Reive said. “They immediately started doing them and it was fun to see. Even I didn’t foresee the fact that they would do new skills we were hoping they would learn this summer in a week. The environment is intense, but at the same time it is open to learning some new things that we haven’t had the chance to do at Iowa.”
Barta along with associate athletic director and gymnastics sport administrator Mark Jennings echo the sentiments of the coaches and reference the immense potential the facility provides for each team to win, graduate and do it right.
“It gives us a chance to set our sights on the highest level,” Barta added. “The Big Ten Conference is competitive in every sport and gymnastics is no exception. (This facility) gives us a chance to compete against the best and shoot for the goal of winning a Big Ten Championship and beyond.”
“With a lot of help and Gary Barta behind it, we now have this fabulous facility,” Jennings said. “I think it will have the entire country and the gymnastics world talking about the commitment that the University of Iowa has for men’s and women’s gymnastics. It will help in performance, recruiting, and I think the sky is the limit for gymnastics at the University of Iowa.”
While the facility is currently in use, it is only in phase one. Phase two involves adding signage and making it feel like home for the Black and Gold. Iowa will be launching a capital campaign soon to fund the addition of these elements.
The Hawkeyes look forward to paying homage to their past by displaying banners for All-Americans, academic award winners, team championships, and more. Showing their historical significance proudly in the facility will serve as a reminder of where the programs have been and will allow them to set their sights on where they intend to go in the future.