Feb. 23, 2012
Editor's note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, July 28, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2011-12 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.
By MICHELE DANNO
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- After 15 years competing, University of Iowa gymnast Javier Balboa has come a long way in his career -- literally.
With one season with the Hawkeyes under his belt, the 5-foot-5-inch junior catapulted himself to the top of Iowa's roster in the all-around. In 2012, he earned conference preseason honors, was voted team captain, and secured his spot as the Hawkeyes' leading scorer.
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A native of Monterrey, Mexico, Balboa came to Iowa as a sophomore in 2011, after transferring from Instituto Technologico y de Estudios Superiores in his homeland. What started as childhood curiosity has transformed into a successful career as a Division I student-athlete.
"When I was little, my mom would always bring me to my older sisters' gymnastics practices, and I would play around on the equipment so I wasn't bored," said Balboa. "Then one of the coaches kept telling me to come practice, and I finally decided to. I loved it right away, so it wasn't a hard decision."
Transferring to Iowa wasn't a difficult decision, either, because he was "fascinated" by the competitive NCAA system. He also considered Minnesota, where his older sister Ana competed, but he chose Iowa after a single visit to campus.
Iowa was lucky to grab him. As one of its only all-around competitors, Balboa proves to be leading the squad for his second season in a row.
Whether he's propelling himself over the vault, swinging through the still rings, or flipping through midair from the floor, Balboa never fails to give a top-level performance.
His best event -- the parallel bars -- has always been his favorite. Last year, in his first season with the Hawkeyes, he placed 12th in the Big Ten Conference and 13th at the NCAA qualifying meet with a score of 14.85 on the bars. This led him to the NCAA Championships, where he placed 48th.
Still, Balboa has proven his worth in every event.
Also in 2011, he tied for first on vault and third on rings at Illinois-Chicago. He placed second in high bars against the Golden Gophers, and in 2010 he was second in all-around (84.150) at the Central American Trials.
These notable career moments earned him a spot on the 2012 Big Ten preseason watch list, along with teammate Matt McGrath. With seven Big Ten teams (not including Iowa) ranked in the top-10 nationally, Balboa has set the bar high for this season.
His personal goals are to bring consistency to every event so he can help lead his teammates to their team goal -- a top-three finish at the Big Ten Championship, which Iowa is hosting in Carver-Hawkeye Arena on April 6-7.
Despite falling to sixth-ranked Illinois in their 2012 home opener, Balboa shined as a ray of hope for the Hawkeyes by leading the team in the vault, parallel bars, and high bar. Head coach JD Reive said Balboa's role is significant in helping him lead the young roster.
"There's a work ethic and sort of an intangible that Javier brings to the team right now," said Reive, who like Balboa, is in his second year at the UI. "Since we were both new to Iowa, it was really important that we established the expectation of the environment we want in the gym. We kind of matured together, so it's been fun."
While "fun" isn't a priority for the Hawkeyes, teammates said Balboa's lighthearted humor and ability to separate work from play keeps them motivated.
Outside the gym, they described their captain as "spunky," "funny," and "always entertaining," which helps lift their spirits.
But once his calloused feet hit the mats to train, he takes his job seriously.
Sophomore Lance Alberhasky said Balboa is inspiring because he is always the first one in the gym for the daily 8 a.m. practices, and he's the last one to leave in the afternoon. The squad spends most of their time together both in and out of practice, as many of them live together and hang out on the weekends.
Balboa said his teammates helped smooth the transition from Mexico to Midwest life. There are some major differences he's adjusting to -- the weather, the food, and taking care of himself.
Although he now considers himself a diehard Hawkeye, Balboa said his two favorite moments of his career were representing his country in the 2010 Central American Games and the 2011 Pan American Games, which he traveled to in October.
Compelled by international competition, Balboa said his ultimate post-graduation goal is to represent his nation in the 2016 Olympic Games.
While he still makes the lengthy trip back-and-forth between his homeland and school for breaks and training, Balboa said it's the Hawkeyes' energy that keeps him coming back.
"Competing at Iowa is way different -- the noise here is insane," Balboa said. "I was surprised by the passion of all the students here and how they really fuel the university colors."