April 2017

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23 T his year's University of Iowa men's gymnastics team is different from previous teams. Where teams in the past have struggled, the 2017 team has excelled. Pommel horse is the ultimate test of endurance and core strength for a gymnast and Iowa is one of the country's best. e team sits sixth in the nation and if it holds that spot, it will be the Hawkeyes' highest finish on the event in head coach JD Reive's seven-year tenure. "It is a mental and nerve-wracking event," Reive said. "ere are a lot of hand movements and variables. ere are more opportunities to fall off there than anywhere else." In the Hawkeyes' past four meets, they have hit 19- of-20 routines on the event and they are doing it with a group of two juniors, a sophomore, and two freshmen including Nick Merryman, who is Iowa's top freshman on pommel. In his first year, Merryman is tied for 29th in the NCAA and is second on the team. "In my opinion, Nick had one of the best circles in that generation," Reive said. "Now we need to get him stronger and develop the confidence to put that circle in a routine to score a lot of points." e infusion of youth on the team is new to the Hawkeyes, and to see them succeed on pommel horse only makes the coaches more optimistic. "You cannot overlook recruiting," Reive said. "It is not something that impacts us year-to-year, it is something that happens several years out. Pommel horse was an event that I knew we were weak on and we went aer athletes that had good circles." e foundation of all good pommel horse routines — the circle — is inherent in developing a top-tier pommel horse routine and through recruiting, Iowa has found gymnasts that have that trait. Everything starts from being able to fluidly swing around the horse. "at's all you need on the event because every element is a circle, so if you have a good circle, then the elements will be easier," junior Austin Hodges said. e focus on strengthening Iowa's lineup began more than three years ago with the addition of Hodges. "Austin is a leader now," Reive said. "He is legit. He comes in to practice with clear intentions of being the best on the event and you see that every day in the gym and you see it on the weekends." Hodges ranks 13th in the nation in the event with a four-score average of 13.517 and a season-high score of 14.650. Hodges' national ranking is tied for the highest placing in Reive's time at Iowa with former Hawkeye Doug Sullivan who also finished 13th last season. e Hawkeyes begin postseason with the Big Ten Championships in Champaign, Illinois, on April 6-8 and then head to West Point, New York, for the NCAA Championships on April 21-22.

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