|IOWA CITY, Iowa — In a sport that highlights individual success, it can often be difficult to have a team-first attitude. For the University of Iowa men’s gymnastics freshmen, the shift in mindset began the day they walked on campus.
“We all came in as a group,” said freshman Mitch Mandozzi. “We are all close. We function as a team within the team. We all help each other achieve our goals.”
Freshmen Mandozzi, Andrew Herrador, Nick Merryman, Brandon Won, Kirill Yefremenko, and Josh Zeal came in with a wealth of experience, but they quickly learned the difficulties of transitioning from working as an individual to competing as a team.
“It’s about what you put on team score,” says UI head coach JD Reive. “Your own personal success becomes secondary to team success. If you truly do that, you get all kinds of success individually. It’s a matter of shifting the priorities around and realizing that if they make it about the University of Iowa, they get all kinds of rewards.”
For this year’s freshman class, the shift from an individual competitor to a team-first mindset came at the home opener on Jan. 22. With fans in the stands of Carver-Hawkeye Arena and the Iowa jersey covering their backs, the six newest Hawkeyes learned the importance of competing as a team.
“It feels great to compete as a Hawkeye,” says Herrador. “It feels like I’m a part of something bigger than myself. I’m not just competing for myself. I’m competing for Iowa and for my teammates.”
It didn’t take long for the class to make an impact on the team. Mandozzi, Merryman, Herrador and Zeal have competed for the Hawkeyes in the first two competitions and helped the Hawkeyes defeat Illinois-Chicago at home Jan. 22. Merryman recorded a season-best 12.850 on pommel horse to finish second in the home opener, while Herrador notched a season-best 13.600 and finished second on high bar.
“Hard work and the team aspect are the two main components that have allowed me to do well,” said Merryman. “My goal is for us to finish in the top three at Big Ten Championship and go to finals at the NCAA Championship.”
After two competitions, their desire to succeed and hunger has increased. While achieving their goals won’t be easy, their head coach is confident they have the skill sets to get there.
“The freshmen class is doing well,” says Reive. “They have a lot of reliance. They are out on the floor and they see what it’s like to compete for a team. Then they have to bring it back into the gym and get hungry. It has been fun from a coaching standpoint. They became more coachable after we had competitions, because they understand the bigger picture now.”
The Hawkeyes return to action today, facing California in Berkeley.