Former top harrier returns to Iowa City in managerial role


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When Micah VanDenend walked off the cross-country course for the last time as a Hawkeye, he ended a career that placed him among the greatest to ever wear the Black and Gold.

He won the Big Ten title in the 10,000 meters in 2007. He was the Midwest Regional Cross-Country champion in 2006 and was named the Midwest Regional Athlete of the Year.

He was also a two-time all-regional honoree who set school records in the 3,000- and 5,000-meter individual races, in addition to a third record as part of the 6,4000-meter relay. He helped lead the Hawkeyes to four-straight NCAA championship berths as a team captain.

“I would argue that he was the most talented runner in the history of the University of Iowa,” said head cross-country coach Larry Wieczorek. “He’s in the upper echelon of athletes. Up there with the Deacon Joneses and Ted Wheelers.”

Today, VanDenend has traded his running spikes for a desk job, but he still represents the Tigerhawks as the director of operations for the men’s cross-country team.

No longer working to take down school records, the Glen Ellyn, Ill., native is now responsible for making sure the program runs smoothly so new athletes can strive to best his marks.

“He puts together travel itinerary, compiles recruiting lists — really does the managerial work for the team,” said assistant cross-country coach Tad Hulst. “He’s another set of eyes. He’s been in Wieczorek’s program when it was at its best, so he can help the guys using that knowledge he’s gained from that background.”

Last season, VanDenend served as an assistant coach for perennial Big Ten power Wisconsin. With his new job for Iowa, he will have experience in both facet of collegiate coaching as both an on-field teacher and an organizer.

“I want to some day be a college cross-country and track and field coach,” he said. “Wieczorek is a very relaxed coach. He’s taught me a lot about trusting your athletes. Too many coaches try to control your entire life. He knows he’s gotten the right kind of people.”

Wieczorek said he thinks that with VanDenend’s new job as an administrator, his transition from athlete to coach will be much smoother than if he had simply jumped from assistant coach to head coach.

“As an athlete, it’s really you first,” Wieczorek said. “As a coach, you serve the athletes first. You’re the one up in the morning making sure breakfast is ready.”

He joked, “In college, Micah had a coach who catered to his every need. I hope he’s learned from that and will treat runners, such as Nick Holmes, like he’s his $50,000 hunting dog.”

More often than not, Wieczorek said, great athletes don’t make great coaches, lacking the hunger and the ability to get the most out of athletes who don’t have the same ability.

One factor that could help VanDenend break that mold could be the injuries he suffered during his time at Iowa. After repeated redshirts and being held out of track seasons while recovering from injuries, VanDenend, a freshman in 2002, finally completed his collegiate career in 2008.

“Micah didn’t accomplish all the things he could have if he had stayed healthy,” Wieczorek said. “He’s an extremely mentally tough guy. He’s got a hunger to learn that you need when you’re a coach.”

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