March 23, 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 -- Home field advantage is a major factor in athletics. Just ask the Dayton men's basketball team if it would have rather played at home instead of in a raucous Carver-Hawkeye Arena for the first round of the National Invitation Tournament.
Fans typically think of football stadiums and basketball arenas when they think of home field advantage. But tomorrow's Big Ten Women's Gymnastics Championships, held in Carver-Hawkeye Arena, will provide a definite advantage for the Iowa women's gymnastics team.
The Hawkeyes will host the conference championships for the first time since 2005, allowing the GymHawks a chance to compete one more time in their home venue. The lack of travel isn't the only aspect that creates a home field advantage.
"Everything is set up just like it's a regular season meet," second team All-Big Ten selection Tesla Cox said. "The views are the same, along with our spots and our cues. That's definitely a huge advantage."
Cox also believes competing in a home venue allows her teammates the chance to attack the mental side of the sport even more aggressively.
"I'm so excited to be in front of all the great Hawkeye fans, my family and friends. We had Senior Night to honor our class, but this is the way to go out."
Senior Jessa Hansen
"Gymnastics is 90 percent mental," Cox said. "It's always great to have your teammates behind you. The comfort level of your own arena in a sport like gymnastics is a big deal."
In a sport where four-tenths of a point can be the margin of victory in a championship, every tiny detail matters. Competing in Carver-Hawkeye Arena allows Iowa to be familiar with all the variables.
"The home field advantage in gymnastics is the mental side of the sport," said UI head coach Larissa Libby. "Every little thing matters. Things like the feel of the mats, the positioning of the lights, where fans are in the stands, people walking through your line of sight, everything. When you are at home, you already know those things. There isn't anything that will disturb your normal process."
When things like mat feel and lighting make a difference, it's no wonder the GymHawks are touting such an advantage by staying at home for the Big Ten Championships.
"You can't even imagine the little things that can be a factor," Libby said. "It can be a little windy in an arena. We already know what Carver is like. Temperature, maybe your feet are cold if you stand on a concrete floor. All of those things matter, and we know this place better than anyone else."
Saturday will be senior Jessa Hansen's fourth, and final, Big Ten Championships. She is eager to take advantage of her surroundings.
"We know the equipment and have been in this environment all season," Hansen said. "We're comfortable in this setting and are really excited to host the Big Ten Championships."
Crowd noise usually causes the biggest home field advantage in sports like football and basketball, but gymnastics is no different. The casual sports fan thinks gymnastics crowds are like golf crowds; quiet during the action, loud after the fact.
"That's the stereotype in our sport that isn't really true," Libby said. "We are trying to make our arena a place that opponents fear. We want our crowd to be loud, vicious and excited. Our athletes feed off the crowd. The louder, the better."
How do Libby's athletes feed off the crowd?
"When our athletes see a big crowd on their feet, that's all they think about," Libby said. "How can I get those people back up on their feet? Our crowd has a direct impact on our score."
In addition to the noise factor, Hansen can't wait to perform in Iowa City one more time.
"I'm so excited to be in front of all the great Hawkeye fans, my family and friends," Hansen said. "We had Senior Night to honor our class, but this is the way to go out."