GymHawks slide past Michigan State in Big Ten matchup

The Iowa women’s gymnastics team narrowly defeated the Spartans in the first dual match of the season at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.


Emily Wangen

Iowa gymnast Clair Kaji looks down to the balance beam during the Gymhawks’ home opener on Saturday, Jan. 11, 2020 at Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Kaji led the Hawkeyes in the beam with 9.800 points. With 195.550 points, the Hawkeyes came out victorious against the Ball State University Cardinals, who came in second with 192.775 points , and the U.S. Air Force Academy Falcons, who earned 188.650 points.

Cassandra Buchholz, Sports Reporter

After a close battle On Feb. 1 in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, the Iowa women’s gymnastics team narrowly pulled out a win against Big Ten opponent Michigan State, 195.450-195.300.

The Spartans came off of a loss to Nebraska last week but accomplished a season-best 196.550 — which included many 9.9’s. While still taking in the win, Iowa head coach Larissa Libby outlined the team’s struggles against the Spartans.

“It was ugly, but a win is a win,” Libby said. “We competed up-and-down tonight. I saw some really great things. Erin Castle stepped up in a lot of places where she doesn’t normally compete. Our job now is to try out different lineups and what is going to stay consistent. Sounds like an oxymoron, when you’ll be bouncing girls in and out of [lineup] spots and that’s obviously not consistent.”

The Hawkeye women started off on vault strong, compiling a team 49.150. The competition also included an electric crowd reaction to sophomore Lauren Guerin, who completed an individual 9.900.

The undertaking for Iowa occurred on bars. The Hawkeyes recorded a 48.625 — just below their team-best of 49.075 against Air Force and Ball State — and resulted with a fall by Alex Greenwald, just after Michigan State’s Nyah Smith missed a bar the rotation earlier.

“The frustrating thing for us is that we are a really great bar team,” Libby said. “At Penn State [last week], we had multiple falls. It’s what’s in their head right now. It was a challenge choosing who to put in tonight.”

Related: Women’s gymnastics takes on Michigan State on Alumni Night

With the challenging night came some light-hearted moments for young fans.

Senior Clair Kaji — who tied with Michigan State’s Gabriella Douglas for overall beam at 9.850, a season-best — spent the time in between rotations to take pictures with young fans and had a line wrapped around the floor post-meet with girls waiting for a photo with the Vancouver native.

“To be on this team is such a blessing, and I want to use that platform to be a role model and empower girls,” Kaji said. “As a girl athlete, it means something different. I want to use my passion to do good. I also don’t like to focus in too much [during competitions]. I like to have fun with fans.”

Libby also noted that the struggle during the night could have stemmed from the team’s recent back-to-back road trips, which also included a 56-hour flight layover in Chicago due to weather. But the 16-year tenured head coach is happy to stay in the Midwest for the next few competitions, including a bus ride up to Minnesota next week.

“The lack of consistency in eating and sleeping played into tonight,” Libby said. “I’m hoping that being home and having tomorrow off and being able to start again will make the difference.”

The GymHawks stay in Big Ten territory next Saturday, traveling to Minneapolis to take on the Golden Gophers at 6 p.m.