Postseason competition heating up for Iowa gymnastics

The Hawkeye men and women will be competing in postseason competition 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

Both Iowa men’s and women’s gymnastics return to competition this weekend. The 19th-ranked Iowa women will continue their national championship chase as they travel to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, for Friday’s NCAA Regionals at Coleman Coliseum.

The eighth-ranked Iowa men begin their postseason with a trip to Lincoln, Nebraska, to compete in the Big Ten Championships Saturday at Pinnacle Bank Arena.

The Hawkeye women head to Alabama after a third-place finish at the Big Ten Championships in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

The GymHawks are slated to compete against No. 7 Alabama, No. 10 Arkansas, and No. 20 Iowa State.

Only the top two teams out of Iowa’s group of four will earn an NCAA Regional Finals bid.

Leading up to the NCAA Regional Championship competition, the Hawkeyes have focused on rejuvenating their minds and bodies.

“I think emotionally and physically everything has been really draining,” head coach Larissa Libby said. “We’ve been riding a big wave for a long time, and so we gave them Sunday and Monday to really be off. After that, it was about getting back to work and doing what needs to be done. We will keep their bodies and minds focused for what has to happen to move forward.”

RELATED: Iowa women’s gymnastics rewarded with national recognition

Iowa is currently leading the Big Ten on floor with a 49.405 scoring average. Junior Lauren Guerin’s 9.950 National Qualifying Average (NQA) ranks eighth in the nation. JerQuavia Henderson’s 9.944 NQA ranks tenth in the country.

Four GymHawks are ranked in the top 10 in the Big Ten on the floor. Guerin is rated No. 2, Henderson is third, Kaji is tied for No. 6, and junior Alex Greenwald is tied for No. 10.

The GymHawks are also tied for third in the Big Ten and 16th nationally on vault. On uneven bars, Iowa is rated 18th in the country. Freshman Adeline Kenlin is currently tied for No. 10 nationally on beam with a 9.880 average.

“The expectation is to move forward to national championships,” senior Clair Kaji said of Iowa’s postseason aspirations. “We don’t want to make that our main focus while we’re out there competing, but we’re there to win. We’re there to get to nationals, but we don’t want to lose that mindset that has worked all season.”

Contrary to the women, the Hawkeye men are just starting their postseason quest.

Iowa enters the 2021 Big Ten Men’s Gymnastics Championships fresh off its best performance of the year. The Hawkeyes posted a 406.700 score on March 20 to defeat No. 4 Nebraska at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.

“Honestly, the mental focus has become more important as we enter the postseason,” head coach JD Reive said. “Our physical state is pretty solid, and that attention becomes even more of a factor. We’ve been filming everything we’re doing, and we brought a judge in Saturday to run us through a practice competition. We’re just trying to figure out where we can get a couple more points.”

This postseason will mark the end of the Iowa men’s gymnastics program. After the postseason, the men’s program will be discontinued at Iowa as part of a UI Athletics effort to tackle its estimated $50-60 million pandemic-related deficit.

Iowa will be competing against Illinois, Michigan, Penn State, Minnesota, Nebraska, and Ohio State this weekend. The Hawkeyes rotation is floor, bye, pommel horse, rings, vault, parallel bars, and high bar.

Three Hawkeyes currently rank inside the top 12 nationally in all-around. Senior Bennet Huang currently ranks fifth with a National Qualifying Average of 82.283, junior Evan Davis is sixth with an 81.533, and junior Stewart Brown is 12th with an average of 79.133.

“For us, it’s about really proving ourselves and showing how capable we are,” Huang said. “We want to prove we’re one of those top teams in the nation. I think with that goal in mind, it’s really been helpful in keeping our team focused and driven for these last couple of weeks.”