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Iowa City, Iowa — Collegiate Gymnastics is weeks away from the championship season. For some teams it means their last meets are among them, but for others it’s the beginning of a postseason run.
For all Big Ten teams, a part of the conference championships started last weekend at the Big Five Meet as they competed for their session at the Big Ten Championships.
The top three in each of the two sessions at the Big Five Meet compete at the preferred night session at Big Tens.
Going into the Big Five Meet the Iowa Gymnastics team’s goals were to get into the top three in session one and stay to true to themselves.
“We had no idea when we looked up at the scoreboard, that one, we could’ve won, that wasn’t a thought, and two, that the score would be that high,” head coach Larissa Libby said.
Iowa Gymnastics finally got the scores they knew they were capable of achieving, by winning session one of the Big Five Meet with a season-high score of 196.450.
“We are so used to feeling great, and looking up at the scoreboard, and it not being what we thought. It really is going to be the turning point for us. Not how we see ourselves, because that hasn’t changed, but how everyone sees us,” Libby said.
It was a historical night for the GymHawks. They had never won a Big Five Meet.
“For us to win, it was everything, validation mainly. We try not to have them think of that word validation too much in gymnastics. When we talk about validation, we try to redirect where the satisfaction comes from,” Libby said. “It’s funny it came at that time, because we had it settled in our brains that it doesn’t matter what other people think. It matters what we think.”
Even with this historical win, the GymHawks didn’t lose who they are.
“It was very relaxed for them, and probably the first time that they were okay with whatever happened. They were happy regardless, because we instilled in them from the beginning that your score doesn’t define you,” Libby said.
“They didn’t compromise themselves at any point. If they wanted to sing they sang, if they wanted to get up on the podium they got up on the podium, and if the kids wanted pictures, they took pictures. They very much stayed in the bubble that was theirs.
“It has changed them tremendously but not too much. Just enough to have the confidence to know that they belong.”
This confidence, is just what the GymHawks longed for as they head into the back half of their season.
“It gave us a lot of confidence in doing what we love and succeeding at that,” Junior Clair Kaji said.
Kaji won three event titles at the Big Five Meet in session one, bars (9.900), floor (9.900) and beam (9.875), tying with senior Nicole Chow on bars and freshman Lauren Guerin on floor.
As a junior and NCAA qualifier, she knows that this win is just the beginning.
“I don’t want to stop here. I don’t want to live in that success. I want to keep going,” Kaji stated. “If you’re not growing, you’re dying. If you’re not learning, you’re failing because you’re not getting better. I am grateful for everything that has brought me here, but it’s still time to keep pushing.”
The GymHawks are now ranked No. 33 in the latest Road to Nationals Poll (2/25), but Kaji and her team aren’t going to stop here.
“We have to be conscious of not basking in the glory of one meet,” Kaji said. “We have to back it up. It’s not just one success and we’re done. This is only the beginning, and we have so much more to offer.”
This new beginning for the GymHawks continues Friday, March 1 at 6:30 p.m. (CT) inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena, as they take on No. 26 Iowa State Cyclones in the Iowa Corn Cy-Hawk Series.
This is the final home meet of Iowa’s 2019 season. The GymHawks will recognize their five seniors after the meet for Senior Night.
Tickets are available at hawkeyesports.com/tickets, or at the north entrance of Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Tickets can be purchased the day of.