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The track team’s ‘split personality’

BY MATT SCHOMMER | MARCH 11, 2010 7:30 AM

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It almost compares to the classic Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

While the men’s track and field squad might not transform into a completely new entity, the Hawkeyes are generally a different type of monster when they turn their heads to the outdoor season.

“The reason I think that is, is that we have certain events that we are better at or have been more focused on,” head coach Larry Wieczorek said. “Generally, we’ve been good in the throws. We’ve really invested in [them].”

Wieczorek pointed to one event in particular, the javelin, as an event Iowa has dominated. A lot of that is because of two competitors, freshman and blue-chip recruit Matt Byers and senior Zachary Schimp.

“I think we have two of the best javelin throwers in the Big Ten,” Wieczorek said.

Byers, who hails from Wichita, Kan., was a member of the 2009 USA Pan-American team and a two-time finalist in the javelin at the USA Junior National Championships. Much of the outdoor success in that event will be on his arm.

“He was one of the top throwers in the entire country as a junior and senior in high school,” throwing coach Scott Cappos said. “We’re fortunate to have him.”

The coach said Schimp has taken on the role of big brother, mentoring Byers. Cappos said he believes the relationship will benefit both athletes.

But, it’s not just the throws that have earned the Hawkeyes higher finishes outdoors.

A few other athletes really turn on the afterburners when the indoor season ends. Wieczorek pointed to senior Ray Varner as someone who steps up his performance outside in the 400-meter hurdles.

But there is one athlete in particular, junior Chris Barton, for whom Wieczorek expects stardom.

“That’s a guy I’m expecting big things from outdoors,” he said. “So far in his career, he hasn’t achieved what I have expected out of him yet, and I know he can achieve.”

The junior from Sherman Oaks, Calif., has had a rocky start to his career, but he possesses the potential to be a major contributor. Wieczorek said some of his struggles indoors come from his size — a 6-5 frame carrying 200 pounds.

“Indoors, I’m kind of a little too big,” Barton said. “I can get outrun on those sharp turns. Outdoors, it’s a little wider turn, and I can get outside and show my speed. I’m hoping this year it all comes together.”

And with the outdoor season comes outdoor conditions, but like postal workers, the squad competes in rain, snow, and shine. Wind, however, remains the team’s public enemy No. 1.

“The guys look outside and might think it’s a nice day,” Wieczorek said. “But the coaches are looking to see if the trees are blowing or the flags are pointing straight out, and we don’t think it’s such a good day. [The wind] can be your biggest enemy.”

This outdoor season, Wieczorek and the Hawkeyes will try to avoid being swept off their feet by relying on the throwing program.

“With the javelin and other events, we know we’ve got the cavalry coming,” he said.


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