The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa women’s gymnastics underclassmen rise to the occasion with loss of Henderson, Kenlin

The young GymHawk team has been challenged to fill the All-Americans’ roles.
Iowa+gymnast+Eva+Volpe+performs+on+the+beam+during+a+gymnastics+meet+between+No.+20+Iowa+and+No.+41+Southern+Utah+at+Xtream+Arena+in+Coralville+on+Friday%2C+Jan.+26%2C+2024.+The+Hawkeyes+defeated+the+Thunderbirds%2C+195.800+to+195.425.+Many+fans+dressed+up+for+Taylor+Swift+Day+at+the+meet.
Cody Blissett
Iowa gymnast Eva Volpe performs on the beam during a gymnastics meet between No. 20 Iowa and No. 41 Southern Utah at Xtream Arena in Coralville on Friday, Jan. 26, 2024. The Hawkeyes defeated the Thunderbirds, 195.800 to 195.425. Many fans dressed up for Taylor Swift Day at the meet.

With two of Iowa gymnastics’ strongest competitors sidelined for much of the 2024 season, it is time for the underclassmen to rise to the occasion.

Returning to the GymHawk squad this season were a pair of seasoned gymnasts poised to lead the team to yet another NCAA Tournament appearance.

Three-time All-American and first-team All-Big Ten selection JerQuavia Henderson was returning for her fifth year of eligibility at Iowa — looking to add to her already decorated collegiate gymnastics career.

Along with Henderson was fourth-year Adeline Kenlin, a two-time All-American and the national runner-up on beam in 2022.

Both Henderson and Kenlin were set to lead a younger GymHawk team this season that has not seen much collegiate experience, but over the past three weeks, Iowa head coach Larissa Libby lost both athletes to the sideline.

Days before the team’s season opener against Washington, Henderson announced her departure from the team to focus on her mental health.

In the team’s third competition of the season against Southern Utah, Kenlin injured her ankle after a vault routine on the team’s first rotation, exiting the gym before returning on crutches.

The sudden loss of the team’s two leaders has left Libby looking for athletes who can step up and replace the All-American tandem.

“I’m not going to say it’s not hard,” Libby said. “It certainly is harder to not have the experience. But we don’t have captains [on our team], and there is a reason for that. Here comes one of those reasons. At any given time, anything could happen, and they all have to be ready to lead.”

The team’s first competition without either athlete in the lineup came against No. 14 Michigan State, an event that saw Iowa lose, 197.400-195.700.

Despite the loss, Libby and her coaching staff are confident about what she has seen from the athletes who are forced to step up and step in for the GymHawks.

“We felt like our young ones were talented enough to make the lineups,” Libby said. “That was way too early to be tested, but they have held their own. Sometimes death by fire is a good thing. It tests your mentality and the culture of your program. There is no better way to find out than to jump in, and here we go.”

Libby is confident in her underclassmen’s abilities to compete at this stage, but familiarizing themselves with playing in a team environment has been the younger athletes’ biggest difficulty so far.

“It’s not about their talent; it’s just about them in competition,” Libby said. “Talent-wise, we are very strong. For the younger ones, it’s just them getting used to a team counting on you. It is very individual when you are in club [gymnastics], so being on a large team now is very different.”

One of the Hawkeyes who is filling the shoes of Kenlin is first-year Eva Volpe, who is now the only GymHawk competing in all four phases of the competition.

Hailing from Pearland, Texas, the three-time national qualifier has been thrown into the fire more than any other athlete on the team — something she didn’t expect in her first collegiate season.

“I expected to contribute but not necessarily on all four events right away,” she said. “It’s been super rewarding because I have been working really hard, so it’s all paying off.”

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About the Contributors
Jake Olson, Sports Reporter
(he/him/his)
Email: [email protected] Jake Olson is a Sports Reporter for The Daily Iowan. In his three years with the paper, he has covered everything from rowing to basketball. He is studying journalism and mass communication with a minor in sports and rec management.
Cody Blissett, Visuals Editor
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Cody Blissett is a visual editor at The Daily Iowan. He is a third year student at the University of Iowa studying cinema and screenwriting. This is his first year working for The Daily Iowan.