Jan. 3, 2012
Editor's Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa's Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.
By PATRICK SOJKA
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The University of Iowa women's gymnastics team is set to begin its season Friday in Cancun, Mexico, in the Cancun Classic.
"It is a nice way to reward the girls that have been here for years," said UI head coach Larissa Libby. "We only get to go once every four years. It is a phenomenal location, and we are very excited about it." Iowa last competed in the event in 2008, finishing second behind Oklahoma and ahead of West Virginia and Wisconsin-Whitewater.
This season, the Hawkeyes will open their 2012 campaign against stiff competition.
"The teams that we are competing against are all ranked ahead of us in the preseason top 20," said Libby. "Arizona, Arkansas, LSU, Auburn, all of which were in the national championship last year. Those teams are national championship-caliber teams, year-in and year-out."
In addition to the tough opponents, the early start presents a challenge.
"They host a very good meet, but it will be an incredibly tough competition for us because it goes a week earlier than we are normally ready for," said Libby. "We are not unfamiliar with what we will be up against, but it will be difficult and different to not be able to ease into the competitive season. We brought back the team a lot earlier, which means they have to be more prepared before when they left.
"They had about eight days off. Normally when we get back, they have time to train, an intrasquad meet, another week of practice to perfect, and then we compete. We do not have that this time. It is challenging; that is part of the reason we only do it every four years. It takes a special team to be able to handle it."
Iowa travels to Cancun on Tuesday. Thursday will be a training day and Friday the GymHawks will compete.
Despite the early challenges, Libby is excited about this year's team. Iowa is aiming for its fifth consecutive NCAA postseason appearance.
"We have a lot of young blood on our team this year," said Libby. "They have done a really good job. We have a very wide variety on our squad, in all aspects of the word. We lost a lot of depth and talent last year; a superb senior class, 14 to 16 of the 24 counting routines."
Despite having to replace an outstanding senior class, Libby is excited about the newcomers and the potential for this team.
"We have six newcomers, and while we have lost a lot of depth across the board and a lot of experience, we are more talented."
It is Iowa's biggest freshman class in a few years, which presents a challenge in itself.
"I believe it will be incredibly rewarding by the end of the year," said Libby. "Their potential is unbelievable. They could be real good.
"I think they will grow together as time goes on. They want it. Their success will be determined by how hard they are willing to push themselves."
Iowa returns home following the event to host Michigan State on Jan. 13 inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. The Hawkeyes will host a number of other big meets over the course of the season, including Illinois (Jan. 21), Penn State (Feb. 3), Iowa State (Feb. 17), Minnesota (Feb. 24), Libby's alma mater, LSU (March 9), and the Big Ten Championships on March 24.