IOWA CITY — For the Iowa women’s gymnastics team, the Sunshine State infusion began with Alie Glover.
The first of five Floridians to make the collegiate leap to Iowa City beginning four years ago, Glover and the Hawkeyes will try to extend their season when they host an NCAA regional Saturday at 4 p.m. at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
“It kind of gives us this little extra edge, a little extra motivation,” Glover said. “It is our home turf, we’re here to defend it and we want to make sure we go out there and make sure we have a strong performance out in Carver. It’s just a little extra icing on the cake for us. It makes it little more special.”
The regional serves as the first round of the national tournament with 36 teams spread across six sites. The Hawkeyes are seeded fourth out of six in Iowa City behind No. 13 Arkansas, 12th-ranked Nebraska and No. 1 Oklahoma. Central Michigan and Kent State round out the field.
“It was a tough bracket, but we think it was one of the best brackets we could have asked for,” Iowa Coach Larissa Libby said.
In order for a team to advance to the national championships April 15-16 in Fort Worth, Texas, they must place first or second in the regional.
Individual gymnasts on the other four teams can qualify with an outright victory in one of four events (vault, uneven bars, balance beam, floor exercise), or one of the two best all-around (all four events combined) scores amongst the bottom four teams.
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“The training has been unbelievable, they’ve kind of taken it up a notch,” Libby said.
“I think that they can feel the excitement building around them, and honestly that’s what I really want for them. I want people to realize how important this is and that they have put themselves in position to be in contention for this spot. It’s been a long time since it’s been realistic to think that we would go.”
Glover – one of just three seniors on the team – was recruited out of the Gymnastics Plus gym in Panama City, Fla. Libby was familiar with coaches Steve Arkell and Sue Arkell and managed to dispel the normal weather-related concerns on an official visit to campus.
“Generally, once we get them up here, we don’t lose them because it’s, ‘Wow, I had no idea’ and everyone is always very surprised,” Libby said. “We call ourselves ‘the best kept secret in the country’ and everybody is always very pleased when they walk away. Alie has helped us tremendously with that, in sending the message that it’s not that big a deal.”
Mollie Drenth arrived from south Florida a year later, followed by Maria Ortiz and two more Gymnastics Plus competitors (Nikki Youd and Rose Piorkowski) over the past two seasons.
“It’s been really cool to have old teammates become new teammates,” Glover said.
Off the floor, Glover’s role has morphed from the quiet freshman trendsetter to a leader who projects qualities that also serve as key ingredients on the floor — stability, balance and control.
“She’s always very even-keeled,” Libby said. “She’s come into her own tremendously between last year and this year as a leader. I think she really settles the team.”
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Saturday, Glover will compete in the vault, beam and the floor exercise — her strongest event — which combines tumbling and dance skills on the square apparatus. Glover leans on Libby’s choreography to provide the artistry, then ensures a high score by focusing on the physical details of the routine — tight form, showing control, maintaining appropriate height and executing perfect landings.
“I am more of a power gymnast,” Glover said. “I’ve done a lot of work to get the other events up to that, but the floor has always come easiest for me. It’s a place where, in gymnastics, you don’t have a lot of opportunity to let loose and that is a place where you can go as high as you want. As long as you focus on those landings and have fun with the dance, it’s just something that you don’t really get in the other events, so I think it’s a really special thing.”
Glover and junior Angel Metcalf each earned second-team all-Big Ten honors this season, while Drenth was named to the first team. As Iowa’s two all-around performers, Drenth and Metcalf will compete in all four events.
“I think they’re in a good position to have a great meet,” Libby said. “But it’s going to take everybody. It’s going to take all of us. … Everybody showing up and outdoing themselves.”
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