March 2014

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51 M att McGrath came away with more than a piece of cake from a birthday party nearly 20 years ago. e event, in honor of a kindergarten playmate, had a gymnastics theme and the high-energy Mc- Grath enjoyed himself while making an impres- sion on one of the chaperones. "e girl that had the birthday was a gymnast at the time so she did one of those parties where you run around, jump over mats — simple stuff 5-year- old kids would do," McGrath said. "e coach who was doing it saw something in me and got me on the team pretty quick from there. ey thought I had way too much energy and pretty good coordi- nation." e native of Wheaton, Ill., also participated in soccer, basketball and baseball, but McGrath said his parents encouraged him to do gymnastics as well — a scheme to tire their son who tended to bounce off walls at home. "ey put me in the program and I excelled more in that sport than anything else," McGrath said. "I specified, and it worked out." McGrath became Level 10 (ages 14-15) national floor exercise champion in 2006, Illinois state floor exercise champion in 2007, and state vault cham- pion in 2008. In 2009, he accepted a scholarship offer from Tom Dunn and became a Hawkeye. As a freshman, McGrath competed in 11 meets, placing third in vault at the NCAA Qualifier to advance to the NCAA Championships, where he finished 45th. He was named Big Ten Conference Freshman of the Week. Dunn retired aer the 2012 season and JD Reive was hired as his replacement. "It has been kind of hectic because I have been through four or five coaches now because I came in during the transition," McGrath said. "I had Tom Dunn my freshman year and then JD my sophomore year, which is basically the polar opposite of a laid back coach going into a super- aggressive, very structured coaching situation. It has been good so far and has made me grow as a gymnast and person." A coaching change didn't affect McGrath's success. As a sophomore in 2011 he earned All-America honors on vault by finishing fih at the NCAA Championships. Earlier that season he set a school record on floor exercise at 15.900. As a junior, McGrath competed in nine meets and advanced to the final of the Big Ten Champion- ships on vault. It was early in the season when he landed low aer a vault and felt his knee pop. Aer surgery and plenty of time off, the injury is finally in the past. "My knees are as good as they have ever been, even better than before the surgery," McGrath said. "My shoulders are good, all the joints are working, so I'm probably in the best shape I have been in since I came to school." Now a redshirt senior, McGrath is an elder states- man within the Hawkeye program. He sat out the entire 2013 season aer suffering the cartilage explosion in his right knee. Meanwhile, the Hawk- eyes earned a spot in the NCAA team finals for the first time since 2005 and had their highest national finish (fih) since 2000. "It was a building year for me as well as for our team," McGrath said. "ey had their most suc- cessful year in 10 seasons, so while that was excit- ing to watch, it was also kind of tough to sit on the sidelines and not help out too much." By Darren Miller 24 Hawkeyes to Watch

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