BY: MADISON PETERSEN
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The University of Iowa women’s gymnastics team enters the 2017 season following one of the most successful seasons in program history a season ago. The GymHawks kick off the 2017 campaign at Northern Illinois on Jan. 8.
“We want to build off of where we were last year,” said Iowa head coach Larissa Libby. “We are ranked No. 22 in the preseason, so I guess a coach’s hope is that you never go backward.”
Seniors Mollie Drenth and Angel Metcalf had big seasons last year and were recognized with All-Big Ten honors at the Big Ten Championships. They were also selected to the all-championship team at the NCAA Regional Championships. Drenth went on to gain All-America honors on beam at the NCAA Championships.
“The only thing I want from those two is to enjoy their senior season, to love the people they’re going out on this high note with, and to make sure their legacy is kept intact,” said Libby. “They helped change the culture of our program. My expectations of them are to make sure that it continues.”
The Hawkeyes look to continue to build strong lineups for the upcoming season despite the graduation of three seniors
“Our lineups last year were pretty strong, but we had gaps in the one-through-six,” said Libby. “There were four people who were consistent, and two who were a little bit weaker. We need to make sure all six are at about the same level if we’re going to be competitive. The stability of those lineups is what will become our success or failure.”
The returners have helped the newcomers adjust. This season the Hawkeyes welcome five freshmen — Charlotte Sullivan, Clair Kaji, Bre Fitzke, Gina Leal, and Annie Kustoff — to the 2017 roster.
“We have two freshmen who have pushed themselves forward — Clair Kaji and Charlotte Sullivan,” said Libby. “They have done an excellent job pushing themselves and forcing their way into the lineup. I think people are going to like their styles. They are both powerful gymnasts, but also elegant, and that can be a rare combination.”
With these new additions, the juniors have stepped up to help lead the young team.
“Juniors Lanie Snyder and Melissa Zurawski at any given point will do the all-around,” said Libby. “They have done a nice job pushing forward to this season from last season with consistency, stability, and leadership. I expect big things from them, and I think people are going to be shocked and excited to see the level of gymnastics that they are capable of doing.”
The GymHawks strive to continue the momentum and legacy from their successful 2016 season.
“We expect to be in the hunt for a Big Ten Championship,” said Libby. “We have always had the philosophy that if you are not seen as great in your own conference, then you are not going to be seen as great on that national scene. Overall, the mission is to be respected within the nation and seen as a serious national contender, as a team that is consistently building and making a name for itself.”
Fans can follow the Hawkeyes throughout the season on hawkeyesports.com or by following Iowa gymnastics on Twitter at @IowaGymnastics or on Facebook at facebook.com/iowagymnastics.