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Luciano looks to finish on high note

BY SEAN MORGAN | NOVEMBER 12, 2009 7:20 AM

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For most Big Ten athletes, second-team All-Big Ten honors would be a blessing.

But for Iowa men’s cross-country star Jesse Luciano, the majority of his senior season and a 13th-place finish at the Big Ten meet in October have been a disappointment.

Luciano has yet to improve on a stellar junior campaign that saw him finish ninth overall in the Big Ten, stand alone as the Hawkeyes’ representative at the 2008 cross-country national meet, and set the school record for the 6,000-meter race at the Auburn Invitational.

With the regional qualifier being held this weekend, there is no time like the present for the Villa Park, Ill., native to have a breakout performance.

“So far, it’s been a disappointment. I did better last year and trained really hard over the summer,” Luciano said. “I’d give my season a ‘C’ right now. I came on stronger last season toward the end, though. It could still be a good season, so the jury is still out.”

Taking Luciano’s title as the team’s top finisher this season has been standout freshman Jeff Thode. While finishing behind a first-year runner may be a source of irritation for many athletes, Luciano said losing to Thode is no cause for concern.

“I would be mad if I didn’t think I was running my best,” Luciano said. “If someone on the team is ahead of me, and I’m doing my best, that just means the bar for the entire team has been raised. If you are concerned with losing to freshman, then you will never succeed as a runner.”

Iowa head coach Larry Wieczorek concurs. In Luciano, he sees a team runner who understands the importance of finishing strongly as a unit, not simply as an individual.

“It can be hard finishing second repeatedly,” Wieczorek said. “I don’t think it is for Jesse, though. He’s a mature, bright guy. When you have a bunch of good runners who were all the No. 1 guy in high school, they all want to be No. 1. The rivalries need to be between the teams, not the teammates.”

Wieczorek believes the margin between the two athletes is a small one. The coach, in his 23rd year, understands that if Luciano and Thode continue to push one another, it can only mean good things for the Hawkeyes during the remainder of the season.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’d like them to run side by side in the front of the pack,” Wieczorek said. “I always tell them, I don’t care who’s head is on the shirt, as long as the shirt says Iowa. Throw a bag over their heads for all I care.

“I tell them that they are all the No. 1 runner, and they are all the No. 5 runner.”

Luciano may already be moving in the right direction. After finishing behind Thode in every meet this season, he was the top Iowa finisher at the Big Ten championships. Thode finished 17th — three spots from qualifying for the All-Big Ten squad.

“If I could get Jesse Luciano every year, I would,” Wieczorek said. “He’s got everything it takes in my opinion. He has speed, stamina, mental toughness — everything.”


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