Iowa gymnastics set for two home competitions this weekend

Iowa’s men’s and women’s gymnastics teams will both be competing at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday.


Kate Heston

Iowa’s Lauren Guerin is seen doing a jump during her floor routine at a women’s gymnastics meet between the Iowa Gym-Hawks and the Minnesota Golden Gophers at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Feb. 6, 2021. The Hawks defeated the Gophers, 196.800-196.375.

Hunter Moeller, Sports Reporter

This weekend, Iowa’s men’s and women’s gymnastics teams will compete at home.

The ninth-ranked Iowa women are playing host to both No. 29 Maryland and No. 12 Minnesota on Saturday at 1 p.m.

The men’s team will host No. 4 Illinois for its home opener at Carver-Hawkeye Arena later on Saturday at 6 p.m.

This weekend marks the first time Iowa’s women will face off against Maryland this season, but the Hawkeyes have already competed against Minnesota.

The Golden Gophers will be making a second trip to Iowa City this month after their contest with Michigan State was postponed because of COVID-19.

In their last meeting with Maryland in 2020, the GymHawks suffered a 196.125-195.675 loss. The Hawkeyes already defeated Minnesota this season, 196.800-196.325, on Feb. 6.

At that meet, the Hawkeyes posted three season-highs, and their 196.800 team score is the fourth-best in program history.

Iowa is currently ranked third in the nation and No. 1 in the Big Ten on the floor, with a 49.350 average. Senior Clair Kaji is currently rated No. 2 in the Big Ten and eighth nationally on floor with a 9.906 average.

On the balance beam, the GymHawks are first in the Big Ten and seventh nationally. They posted a season-high score of 49.150 on beam in their last competition against Minnesota. On uneven bars and vault, the Hawkeyes are ranked 11th and 15th in the country.

Sophomore JerQuavia Henderson has been the only GymHawk to compete in all-around this year. She scored a 39.325 — her career-best — against Illinois and a 39.300 last week against Minnesota.

The Hawkeyes have shared or won an abundance of events in their first four competitions. Kaji has won four events, junior Lauren Guerin has three wins, and freshman Adeline Kenlin has two wins. Senior Emma Hartzler, junior Alex Greenwald, and Henderson each have one.

The awards continue to pile up week in and week out for the GymHawks too. In their first four weeks of the season, the GymHawks have earned six Big Ten weekly honors.

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Guerin was the Big Ten Specialist of the Week on Feb. 8 after scoring a 9.950 for her week-old floor routine. Guerin also won the award on Jan. 18 after splitting the floor title in the season-opener at Minnesota. Kenlin won Big Ten Freshman of the Week for a second time this season on Feb. 8 after placing third on bars and beam with a 9.850 and a 9.875, respectively. Kaji was also awarded Big Ten Specialist of the Week for a second time on Feb. 1 after she won floor with a 9.900 and finished runner-up on both beam and bars against Illinois.

While the GymHawks have been performing well, they know they need to stay focused.

“I think for us, it’s about not getting too far ahead of ourselves, celebrate the wins, but not let it get to our head,” Kaji said after the Minnesota win. “This is still the start of the season. Every week is a process; never let the pride go in front of the hard work that we still have because these are just the first couple of steps to where we want to be.”

The Iowa men continue their final season this weekend with their home opener, as they play host to No. 4 Illinois.

The last meeting between the two programs ended in a tie, as both squads finished with a 403.500 team score.

This competition marks the second of the season for Iowa’s men’s team, and after a week off following its 393.650-387.050 win over Minnesota, the Hawkeyes are feeling rejuvenated.

“Last week was a little bit of our reload week,” senior Bennet Huang said. “We try to make sure what we’re putting is good quality, not necessarily a lot of numbers, but we want to make sure we get all the guys healthy. For the most part, the team is healthy, but a few guys are a little banged up, so we just used this past week to fix them up. This week we’re back at it.”

The Hawkeyes currently hold the seventh-highest all-around score in the country with the win at Minnesota.

Although the Hawkeyes have only had one competition this year so far, they have performed exceptionally well.

In their opening competition, the men won five of the six events. Huang and junior Stewart Brown — both named Big Ten Gymnasts to Watch at the beginning of the season — shared the floor title. Junior Evan Davis won on the rings. Iowa took care of business on vault, placing 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, with sophomore Amari Sewell getting the win. Sophomore Carter Tope got the victory on the parallel bars. Huang won the all-around with a score of 80.450, and Davis followed with a 78.000.

Part of the Hawkeyes’ great effort this season could be chalked up to their unusual motivator.

“Our mindset, since this is our last season, is we’re going to go into every meet trying as hard as we possibly can to win. Everyone is pushing to do their absolute best,” Tope said. “We’re showing everyone that, after this season, we are going to go out as one of the top teams.”