Jan. 20, 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.
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- With sights set on a fifth-consecutive NCAA postseason appearance, the GymHawks will call on a balance of ability and experience as they take on their 2012 schedule. Head coach Larissa Libby and her University of Iowa women's gymnastics team has a single goal in mind -- to compete in the night session at the Big Ten championships.
The GymHawks will rely on experienced leadership from seniors Rachel Corcoran, Jordan Eszlinger, Jessa Hansen and Annie Szatkowski. The four combine for multiple years of NCAA Regional competition and will play an integral part in Iowa's success.
Hansen, a native of Clive, Iowa, is a two-time All-Big Ten selection and the GymHawks' lone returning all-around competitor from 2011. Libby spoke of her value to the Hawkeyes and her ability to lead the program.
"The goal is to have a team that can walk into any venue against any team and know that they can compete. I think we're talented enough to win, but it's not whether I think we are. You'll see when the team thinks we're good enough."
UI head coach Larissa Libby
"For Jessa, the expectation has been set, and she knows her role on the team," said Libby. "Mentally, she's stronger than she's ever been, and she needs to be in order to show the younger ones how it's done when she's out there competing."
The importance of a student-athlete to be able to lead a team by example, both academically and in the gym, is of upmost importance to Libby, and she says no one plays that role better than Eszlinger.
"Jordan came as a walk-on and has made the bar line-up for a second year. She is the stability of our team," said Libby. "She has great gymnastics, but what she brings to our team outside of gymnastics has made a major difference in getting over that hump with the new girls. She is 'full-go' all the time."
Iowa's junior class consists of Emma Stevenson, Kaitlynn Urano and Maya Wickus. Libby sited her juniors' ability to bring the upper and underclassmen together and help the team mesh more smoothly. Look for all three to contribute in 2012.
"The junior class has come together really well to exemplify exactly what we're looking for academically and athletically," said Libby. "They play a pivotal role in our program, and I'm very proud of them."
Tesla Cox makes up Iowa's sophomore class. Cox competed in 12 meets as a freshman, earning a high mark of 9.850 against Northern Illinois.
Libby's 2012 recruiting class includes freshmen Emily Bigras, Sydney Hoerr, Miranda Meyer, Jessica Morreale, Emma Willis and Sarah Wolford. The class represents a wealth of international and Junior Olympic competitors. Look for Willis to make noise early on as an all-around competitor.
"All of the freshmen are super talented, and it's a strategy of not trying to find the best all-around gymnasts but trying to find the individuals that excel on certain events," said Libby. "We're focused on getting the best, not so much being all-arounders."
With such a balanced squad, Libby and the GymHawks won't be limited during a grueling schedule. They know a focused mindset and confidence will bring out the natural ability as they strive to compete in the final session at the NCAA Nationals.
"The goal is to have a team that can walk into any venue against any team and know that they can compete," said Libby. "I think we're talented enough to win, but it's not whether I think we are. You'll see when the team thinks we're good enough."
The 2012 Big Ten Championships are coming to Iowa City and will be held inside Carver-Hawkeye Arena on March 24. The Big Ten currently boasts six programs ranked in the top-25, with Nebraska at No. 1 in the nation. NCAA Regional competition begins April 7, followed by NCAA Nationals April 20.