Iowa gymnastics prepping for weekend road trips

Iowa’s gymnastics teams will hit the road to compete this weekend.


Hannah Kinson

Iowa’s Clair Kaji gets ready to perform her floor routine during a gymnastics meet against Ohio State on Saturday, Jan. 23, 2021 at Carver Hawkeye arena. The Hawkeyes defeated the Buckeyes with a score, 196.550-193.800. Kaji earned a score of 9.925.

Hunter Moeller, Sports Reporter

Iowa’s gymnastics teams are hitting the road this weekend. The ninth-ranked women’s team will make a voyage to Champaign to match up with No. 18 Illinois on Sunday.  And the men’s team is traveling north to Minneapolis to face Minnesota in its season-opener on Saturday.

The last time Iowa’s men’s gymnastics team met with Minnesota, it defeated the Golden Gophers and the Illinois-Chicago Flames in a triangular meet, 400.000-397.600, in 2019.

This season, Minnesota will be without three-time Big Ten Gymnast of the Year Shane Wiskus, who elected to train in Colorado for the Olympics rather than return to Minneapolis.

For both Iowa and Minnesota’s men’s squads, this weekend will mark the beginning of the end. Both institutions announced that they would be cutting their men’s gymnastics programs at the end of the 2020-21 academic year.

One of this year’s Big Ten Gymnasts to Watch, Hawkeye junior Stewart Brown, feels that they have something to prove.

“I think using [the discontinuation of the men’s gymnastics program] as a motivator is the only way to have a positive perspective and be successful,” Brown said. “I think, as a team, if we were stuck on that, we wouldn’t have much success because it doesn’t do anything but hold you back. We want to show the community and the University of Iowa what’s going to be missed, what we’re capable of, what we bring to the table, and what we can do.”

The former ninth-ranked men’s team will look to pick up where it left off last year before COVID-19 shortened its season.

Senior Bennet Huang, who, alongside Brown, was named one of the Big Ten’s gymnasts to watch this year, is just excited to compete.

“It’s pretty exciting for us,” Huang said. “We usually have our competition schedule out in the fall. So, pretty far in advance, we know where we are going, but this year it didn’t come out until a couple of weeks ago. We’re just excited to go out and compete and show what we’ve trained so hard for.”

Brown and Huang were not the only Hawkeyes excited to get the season started.

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“Finally being able to get out on the floor with the guys and have them compete together, amazingly, in-person — it’s much needed. We are excited to do it, and the team is doing well,” head coach JD Reive said. “The coaching staff is excited to bring them out. We needed this. I was pretty concerned that we were going to have a sort of virtual send-off, but the fact that we are able to be in-person is great for everybody. It’s not just an opportunity to compete, but have a little bit of real closure with the final season.”

Conversely to the men’s team, the Iowa women’s gymnastics squad is gearing up for what may be another successful season.

After achieving their highest ranking in school history, the No. 9 GymHawks will be tested by No. 18 Illinois this weekend.

For Illinois, Sunday’s matinee will serve as its first home meet of the season. The Fighting Illini, however, have already picked up three wins in 2020-21 against Nebraska, Rutgers, and Maryland.

Illinois currently ranks 18th in the nation in bars, 14th in beam, 13th in floor, and 40th in vault.

In the Hawkeyes’ first two competitions of the year – a 196.450-197.025 loss to No. 11 Minnesota and a 196.550-193.800 win against No. 13 Ohio State — they have averaged a team score of 196.500, giving them the second-best average team score in the Big Ten, behind only No. 7 Michigan.

The Hawkeyes have climbed their way up the ladder since the beginning of the season, starting as the No. 25 team in the country before springing up to No. 9.

Iowa head coach Larissa Libby couldn’t ask for a better start.

“I can’t express how excited I am for these girls,” Libby said. “These kids always do the right thing. This team always does the right thing, and they always represent the right way. I feel like they’re so underrated — the universe owes them this. They deserve this so much, to finally be recognized for their effort.”

Iowa is the nation’s top-ranked team on the floor, boasting a 49.400 average. Individually, junior gymnast Lauren Guerin and senior Clair Kaji are both rated inside the top six in the country – Guerin tied at fourth, and Kaji tied at sixth.

The GymHawks also lead the Big Ten, and are rated eighth nationally, on balance beam. Additionally, they are ranked 11th in the country on uneven bars.

A slew of Hawkeyes received Big Ten honors in the first two weeks of the season. Lauren Guerin was named Specialist of the Week on Jan. 18. Clair Kaji received the same award a week later, alongside Adeline Kenlin, who the Big Ten named Freshman of the Week.

While the accolades have piled up, the Hawkeyes have remained focused.

“We are focusing on staying consistent,” junior Lauren Guerin said. “We haven’t had a fall yet, so just trying to keep it that way. We have had such a strong start these past two weeks. We want to keep that up and keep scoring high, if not higher.”

Above everything, the GymHawks say they’re just excited that they can compete in 2020-21.

“It’s truly the best feeling in the world. Going into the preseason, we knew it was going to be difficult, but we didn’t know what to expect,” senior gymnast Clair Kaji said. “We didn’t know how the season was going to play out, so we were able to get into our heads and be like, ‘If the season is going to go, if we have this chance, then we are going to make the most of it. We are going to train like we are having [a season],’ and having one is just surreal.”

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