Jan. 11, 2014
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.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- For each of the last six years, the University of Iowa women's gymnastics team has been selected to NCAA Regional competition. Entering each of those seasons, postseason appearances have been the expectation level. This year is no different.
"I don't ever back off on expectations," said UI head coach Larissa Libby. "Expectation sets the tone for your team. In essence you are establishing the team's belief in where they should be at the end of the year.
"So even in the bleakest of situations I still expect to "look the part" to challenge for a Big Ten Championship; I still expect to go (to NCAA's) for the seventh-consecutive year. I expect it. If I do not expect it, they will never believe that they're good enough, and they are."
The sixth-straight appearances illustrate the consistent success the program has enjoyed under Libby.
Consistency is a term that Libby and assistant coach Jacob Lee have reinforced to this year's team.
"We're going to have to work on consistency," said Libby. "We have given them the same message for most of the year.
"The conference is tough; it's getting better every single year. We can compete if we are focused on the right things... our work ethic and winning each day."
Libby, who has coached Iowa to NCAA appearances in seven of her nine seasons at the helm of the Hawkeye program, has high hopes for this team, despite few upperclassmen.
The majority of GymHawks are underclassmen, with seven freshmen, four sophomores, three juniors and zero seniors. Juniors Jessica Morreale and Emma Willis are unable to complete due to injury. Junior Johanny Sotillo will also be unable to compete after suffering a season-ending injury during the first semester.
"We certainly have some level of concern that we don't have seniors in leadership positions, but it is minimal," said Libby. "This is a dynamic team. They are all coming into their own, in their own way, in their own time. They have all brought their own leadership qualities to this team."
"Alie and Sydney are certainly the key players for us, as they have competed in the all-around," said Libby. "Morgan Fairman, Caitlin Tanzer, and Opua Calucag are walk-ons, but guide the team every day in a variety of ways."
Libby also expects contributions from the seven Hawkeye newcomers.
"The four that were recruited as scholarship athletes are Lexi Mura, Amanda (Kowalski), Mollie Drenth and Angel (Metcalf), and all have huge potential to contribute," said Libby. "They need to get over some collegiate competition jitters, but once they do, I think they will have a large impact on our scoring potential.
"All of our freshmen are going to contribute. They have worked extremely hard to this point, and it's a matter of showing up poised to challenge every team at the highest level. Right now, it is a confidence thing for them; they're going to have to figure out that they are as good as everybody else out there."
The GymHawks have been training hard since last season, and are eager for the start of the 2014 campaign.
"They're chomping at the bit right now to get out of the gate and compete," said Libby. "Will we be the best team in January? That remains to be seen, but if they stay on track and follow the process, they have what it takes to turn a lot of heads and surprise some people."
The Hawkeyes open the 2014 season Saturday, hosting Utah State at 5 p.m. (CT) inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena. Free t-shirts will be given to the first 200 fans in attendance, and there will be post-meet autographs.