IOWA CITY, Iowa — Every year, the University of Iowa women’s gymnastics team is infused with new talent, new goals, and a new journey.
When the GymHawks enter Rec Hall for the Big Ten Championships in State College, Penn., it will be one of the team’s final meets in a journey unlike any other.
Iowa welcomed seven freshmen this year, and every one of them as competed in a meet.
“When you have a group of freshmen who carry the weight in competition, how can you expect them to get the culture and philosophy before they ever experience it,” UI head coach Larissa Libby said.
Throughout the season, the freshmen GymHawks were trying to feel that culture, not just know it. On Feb. 22, at the Big Five Meet, they finally felt it.
“It wasn’t that we won it, the score was great, or that we got into the night session,” Libby said. “It allowed them to be 100-percent crazy, silly, and do good gymnastics while doing it.”
The GymHawks won the meet with a season high final score of 196.450 to qualify for the night session at the Big Ten Championships.
“That was a defining statement coming out of the Big Fives,” Libby added. “They get it and know what that feels like, and they understand it in a competitive setting.”
“That was a pivotal moment for the freshmen to understand who we really are. We tell them all the time that’s where your power is, there’s only one you, nobody can take that away from you,” Libby said.
Not only was Big Fives an important moment for the freshmen, it was an even bigger moment in the season for the entire team.
“It was a catapult for them realizing that it wasn’t all talk. We just need to be on the same floor as everybody else,” Libby stated.
“There was a lot of energy at Big Fives, and we are looking to bring that into Big Tens,” senior Nicole Chow said.
Chow, a second team All-Big Ten honoree, scored a 9.900 on bars to help the GymHawks score a 49.375 on bars at Big Fives, the third best in program history.
“It gives us a little confidence and swagger,” Chow said. “We just need to go in there being ourselves and have fun, and the outcome will take care of itself. We know that we still have something to prove.”
As the GymHawks look at the Big Ten Championships, they know there will be a lot of energy in the night session with six teams competing in their session, No. 7 Michigan, No. 11 Minnesota, No. 17 Nebraska, No. 25 Penn State, and No. 32 Illinois.
“Our overall goal for Big Tens is to be immersed in the present moment and have fun, that’s when we do our best. When you look back, that’s why we’re all here,” junior Clair Kaji said.
Kaji, a first team All-Big Ten honoree and a three event title holder at the Big Five Meet, scoring 9.900s on floor and bars, and a 9.875 on beam, has been a rock for the GymHawks this season.
“To really go for our best is what we need to do. Confidence comes from knowing your team is always with you,” Kaji stated. “When I go up and compete I always know that I’m not doing the routine alone, that we are doing this together. That’s something that always fills me with joy, and lets me know I can do this. Not just for me but for my team.”
The GymHawks continue their journey in the Big Ten Championships on Saturday, March 23, at 4 p.m. (CT). The meet will be aired live on the Big Ten Network. Follow the meet on live results at hawkeyesports.com/wgymlive.