GymHawks Aim For 6th Straight NCAA Appearance
Dec. 18, 2012
Larissa Libby believes teamwork, focus and determination will drive her team to success.
"We are short on depth this year, but what we have returning is tremendous," said Libby. "If we can be very smart and efficient, I believe we can be Big Ten Champions, and I will not come off that. That's the intent, and I believe we have the right group to get there. They have been extremely focused on what we represent and though they are all very different, they meet in the middle and focus on the same idea and same process."
The team and staff are well aware of the work ahead and have a solid foundation and winning tradition to pull from. Because of this standard, "Challenge Accepted" is the 2012-13 GymHawk slogan.
"We lost a lot of depth," said Libby. "We've accepted it and are moving forward without excuses. We have taken steps back, but we intend to take even more steps forward."
With six returning letterwinners and seven newcomers, Libby and her squad will rely on experienced leadership from seniors Emma Stevenson, Kaitlynn Urano and Maya Wickus. The senior trio will combine to provide Iowa with the stability and skill every team needs.
Stevenson is coming off a stellar junior season, setting career-bests on three events. She was named to the All-Big Ten Championship team after scoring a 9.875 on the floor exercise.
"Emma loves what she does, but she means business," said Libby. "She knows how to get the best out of herself and is always working to be perfect. She will be our go-to kid and will be the one to hold the team standard. I expect her to be on the top of the Big Ten again."
Urano will also be crucial on three events, especially the balance beam. In 2012, she competed on the beam three times, scoring a career-high 9.725 against Penn State. Urano also contributed to the bar lineup on 12 occasions, earning a career-best 9.850 against Penn State, tying for second place.
"Kaitlynn has worked extremely hard to improve all aspects of her gymnastics, from nutrition and fitness, to work ethic," said Libby. "She understands how pressure-filled the beam lineup can be, and she will be ready to go. Kaitlynn is a very understated, but beautiful gymnast. She's developing into her own person and has the potential to bring in high scores."
Wickus is also essential to the team's success. For the past two seasons, Wickus has anchored the vault lineup. This year, Libby expects Wickus to be a mainstay in the bars and floor lineups as well. In 2012, Wickus won the vault title at Iowa State and competed on the bars twice, marking a career-best of 9.775 at Denver.
"Maya really wants what is in the best interest of the team," said Libby. "She's a phenomenal vaulter and has great skills on the uneven bars. This year, she's working really hard on the things that don't come naturally to her. Maya is the one to make sure that the team is successful at the end of the day. That's a tough role, but you want the seniors in that position."
"Having no juniors is new for us, but it's easier when you have the right kids," Libby said. "The sophomores will be the next leaders of the team. They will be the people who set the precedent for years to come."
The sophomore class will be instrumental this season on the competition floor. "The majority of our routines will come from this class," said Libby. "All three are more than capable and have the potential to bring in big scores."
Willis competed in the all-around in 13 meets last season, and Libby believes she will be more comfortable in that role the second time around.
"Emma contributed on four events last year, and we're extremely pleased with where she is now. She has big gymnastics skills and though Emma is more reserved, Sydney will push her to be even better."
Libby expects Hoerr to join Willis in the all-around.
"Sydney always had the potential to be an all-around competitor, and now she's more than ready," said Libby. "Sydney loves to be under the gun. She works really hard, but her best skills come out in competition."
Morreale, who is returning from a knee injury, will also be vital to the lineup. "Jessica is making a comeback and will start the year anchoring beam and working on floor," said Libby. "She will be back in the vault lineup, but we're starting slow with her."
"The freshman class has a lot of potential," said Libby. "We hope the freshman class will be the support staff and fill in where we have gaps."
Libby noted two freshmen that can make significant impacts. She expects Glover and Lopez to join the lineup from the start.
"Glover and Lopez are something special," said Libby. "They just don't know it yet. It's difficult for them to see their potential because they're constantly in the grind, but I think they will be some of the best newcomers in the Big Ten."
With a mix of seasoned competitors and fresh talent, the GymHawks have high expectations for 2013. It will take tremendous effort, but this team has the potential to leave its mark in the Big Ten.
"Consistency is our goal," said Libby. "We need to set the bar high right out of the gate. Ultimately, we want to be Big Ten Champions. Our goal is to be the best in our conference, both athletically and academically. We've made huge strides, which may not be visible on the outside yet. When we take that floor, the change will be seen."