Freshman Hanna Castillo performs under pressure with Iowa women’s gymnastics

Castillo’s confidence has allowed her to thrive on floor, where she holds the difficult leadoff position.


Ayrton Breckenridge

Iowa’s Hanna Castillo competes on floor during a gymnastics meet between No. 18 Iowa and Rutgers at Carver-Hawkeye Arena on Saturday, Feb. 18, 2023. The Hawkeyes defeated the Scarlet Knights 196.200-195.125. (Ayrton Breckenridge/The Daily Iowan)

Emma Sachs, Sports Reporter

Freshman year can be a scary time for athletes, especially because they’re in a totally different environment. But for Iowa gymnastics freshman Hanna Castillo, being in a new state with a new team has brought her the exact opposite.

Castillo, originally from Boca Raton, Florida, has had her eyes set on joining the Hawkeyes from a young age.

“I had committed when I was 13 and about to go into ninth grade. I was a little baby,” Castillo said. “For the whole time that I was committed, there wasn’t really a question about it. I’d never really wanted to switch to another school because when I came here for camps and everything it was just a great experience.”

Castillo consistently competes on floor, where she is the first gymnast in the lineup — a physically and mentally demanding position.

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“It’s hard to lead off. It’s really hard endurance-wise,” Iowa head coach Larissa Libby said. “As a gymnast, I never wanted to lead off, and Hanna owns it. A lot of the time, she’s one of the counting scores and the higher scores. To lead off and be that good is hard to do.”

While being in the leadoff position can be stressful for gymnasts, Castillo loves the pressure.

“I love being in the leadoff spot. It makes me think, ‘Okay, no matter what happened in the event before, we’re starting out on a fresh event,’” Castillo said. “I gotta be ready to go mentally, and I love having to be in that No. 1 spot so I can set the tone for everyone. I love competing. So, it doesn’t really matter to me whether it’s at the end or at the front. I love it either way.”

Libby said she rarely chooses a freshman to lead off any event. But Castillo earned that spot, Libby said, and she owns it.

When many gymnasts get nervous at competitions, Castillo doesn’t let the stress bother her. Castillo said she loves competing, where she gets to perform for herself and her team.

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“Personally, the pressure of it is so exciting. When your heart’s about to drop because the judge is about to, like, salute you,” Castillo said. “It just makes it so fun and so surreal. What motivates me is just being able to compete, being able to step out onto that floor and have the judge salute you. I love that feeling, and it’s one of the best experiences I could ever have or ask for.”

Libby said Castillo’s confidence, especially on the floor event, draws in fans, getting them excited about her routine.

Libby also said the floor event allows fans to see the athlete’s personality more than the other events. When Castillo performs with her big personality, Libby said, her confidence is visible to the crowd.

“She is naturally gifted, and she naturally has that desire to be seen,” Libby said. “Her performance is what makes her floor routine so good. It’s that she is happy to be seen. She dares you not to look at her. And she is very confident, even when she’s not. She presents the air that she knows exactly what she’s doing.”

Castillo’s work ethic and confidence have allowed her to also break into the vault lineup, competing in two events as a freshman.

Despite everything Castillo has accomplished this season, Libby looks forward to seeing how she will continue to grow.

“She does things to perfection, and she works hard in the gym,” Libby said of Castillo. “She hasn’t even begun to reach what she’s capable of doing. She has a lot more in the tank.”