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Men’s harriers fall short at Regionals

BY SEAN MORGAN | NOVEMBER 17, 2009 7:21 AM

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For the Iowa men’s cross-country team to qualify for the NCAA championship meet, it needed big-time finishes from the entire Hawkeye roster.

But while freshman Jeffrey Thode and junior Mark Battista ran personal bests, the Hawkeyes fell short of their goal, failing to qualify for the championship meet.

“This was one of our best team efforts for sure,” head coach Larry Wieczorek said. “It was a complete effort from top to bottom. We had the third-best sixth man, the third-best seventh man. These are things you look at as sort of consolation prizes.”

Much like Iowa’s football program, on Nov. 14, the Hawkeye runners fell to Ohio State. The Buckeyes, who had beaten Iowa head-to-head, won a tiebreaker to take the last spot in the NCAA championship meet — the spot Wieczorek had hoped would belong to his squad.

“Like Kirk [Ferentz] said, ‘In the end we all get what we deserve,’ ” Wieczorek said. “If we had beaten Arkansas earlier in the year at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational, we would have qualified with three points. We were just a little short in the end.”

Helping dull the pain of defeat was strong performances by Thode and Battista, who each made the All-Regional team with 21st and 25th finishes, respectively.

Thode, who had failed to meet his own expectations at the Big Ten championship in State College, Pa., felt much better when he crossed the finish line on Nov. 14 at Missouri State.

“I paced it out and didn’t have to push it,” he said. “I was careful about how I ran this time. I didn’t change my pace when the pack started to move.”

Perhaps the day’s biggest success story was the effort by Battista. The New Lenox, Ill., native had struggled and was in dire need of a standout performance.

“Mark is a guy who was entering his third year,” Wieczorek said. “He was a scholarship guy who didn’t make the traveling team for track last season. He had one foot on the banana peel and one foot out the door.”

Battista delivered, though his All-Regional finish was by a narrow margin. He was the final runner to qualify for the honor. A few seconds slower, and it would have gone to someone else.

“I didn’t really know where I had finished when the race was over,” Battista said. “Wieczorek and Micah [VanDenend] thought I might have gotten the 25th spot. When I was finishing my cool down, I gave Micah the thumbs up or thumbs down sign. He just nodded.”

For Wieczorek, more important than Battista’s finish was how the junior managed it. Wieczorek said Battista told him how he was feeling after the race.

It was exactly the type of effort Wieczorek had hoped his team would give.

“He told me that in the last 1,000 meters that he couldn’t see straight and that his legs were wobbling,” Wieczorek said. “But he wanted to try to get us to nationals. Sometimes, teams make DVDs at the end of each season. I don’t know if I will yet, but there is already one in my mind. That’s an image that I’m going to keep.”


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