GymHawk seniors ready for final stretch of 2020-21 season

With senior night now behind them, the Hawkeyes are gearing up for the postseason.


Hannah Kinson

Iowa’s Clair Kaji performs a bars 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 9.850.

Hunter Moeller, Sports Reporter

Iowa women’s gymnastics seniors Erin Castle, Emma Hartzler, and Clair Kaji all competed in their final home meet March 6. Two of the seniors have spent the last three years refining their craft and picking up life lessons that will benefit them forever.

“This place has just really allowed me to grow as a person, and it’s helped me figure out who I am and who I want to be,” Castle said. “It’s taught me so much about overcoming. I can’t even put it into words because it has changed my life so much. I’m just so incredibly grateful for my time here.”

After graduation, Castle will move to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend graduate school at Belmont University to receive her master’s degree in sports administration.

Hartzler has greatly impacted the Iowa women’s gymnastics program during her four-year tenure in Iowa City. The Marion, Iowa, native played an integral role in pitching the GymHawks’ 2021 “Enough” social injustice slogan.

Hartzler said Iowa women’s gymnastics has had as great an impact on her as she has had on it.

“I’m just grateful I got the opportunity to come here,” Hartzler said. “It’s been so incredible. These girls have worked so hard, and to see them finally getting recognized for what they’re capable of is amazing, and I’m happy to have been a part of it.”

For Kaji, Iowa women’s gymnastics has always been more than an athletics program.

RELATED: Iowa gymnastics teams end busy Saturday with a win and a loss

“I used to be extremely introverted and didn’t like myself,” Kaji said in a release. “I have gained so much confidence and am so proud to be who I am.”

The fifth-year senior from Vancouver, Canada, has fought through adversity throughout her time as a Hawkeye. She suffered an Achilles tear as a sophomore, and her first senior season was prematurely ended because of COVID-19.

“I can’t imagine what it would have been like [not returning for a fifth year],” Kaji said. “I have just had so much fun here. I still can’t believe that Larissa let me come back on the team. This team is really something special, and that’s because of their character, their genuine authenticity to be who they are, and it’s really allowed me to be myself. Larissa has been the biggest role model, and I strive to be like her. To empower other people, that is something that is truly amazing.”

Head coach Larissa Libby thinks her seniors deserve so much, and that they have more left to give the program for the remainder of the 2020-21 season.

“They deserve to have an incredible senior night, and actually, they deserve a senior week for everything that they have put into this team,” Libby said. “More than any team, they’re not done. They have a lot to accomplish. They accomplished a lot already, but they feel that they can go the distance.”

The Hawkeyes will wrap up their regular season with a dual against Nebraska in Lincoln March 14, with the Big Ten Women’s Gymnastics Championships to follow March 20. NCAA Division I Women’s Gymnastics Regional Championships are scheduled for April 1, with the national championships to follow April 16.