Elite competition awaits track team


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For some of the men’s and women’s track teams this weekend, the arid Arizona desert looms ahead.

But head coach Larry Wieczorek isn’t expecting a whole lot of rest and relaxation.

“When we buy a plane ticket, we aren’t thinking we are sending them to participate,” he said. “We are sending them there to achieve excellence. We’re not going down there to admire the cactus and soak up some sunshine.”

Some elite competition awaits the Hawkeyes at the Sun Angel Classic in Mesa, Ariz. Still, Wieczorek and his recently ranked squad looks to further improve on a stellar outdoor season. The men are ranked No. 2 in the Midwest region, trailing Nebraska and slotted ahead of such powerhouses as indoor Big Ten champion Minnesota.

“Hopefully, that will instill some pride in the guys, and what they are looking like as a program,” Wieczorek said. “Maybe give them some extra confidence.”

Self-assurance shouldn’t pose a problem for the Hawkeyes, who have nationally ranked performances in the javelin, 400-meter dash, and 110- and 400-meter hurdles.

One of those times, posted by senior Ray Varner in the 400-meter hurdles, clocked in as the 13th fastest time nationally at a blistering 51.39 seconds, and freshman Jordan Mullen’s 14.06 ranks 21st nationally in the 110-meter hurdles. It was only the second time Varner has competed in the event, and he said he can go beyond his impressive time.

“It keeps me humble, because I know that I can go faster,” he said. “I’m still trying to figure the race out and get more comfortable with it.”

Despite the high standards the team has set for itself, Wieczorek expects nothing but the best from his athletes over the weekend.

The women’s track and field team will split this weekend between Arizona State and Western Illinois. Seventeen Hawkeyes will travel to Arizona, and 14 will make the trip to Macomb, Ill.

Iowa has attended the Arizona State meet during the past three seasons, and the coaches agree it will be the toughest competition the women have seen.

Assistant coach Clive Roberts said because the Sun Devils were the 2007 national champions, the competition will be “fierce” and the environment “awesome.” And, he said, there is no reason the women cannot run with the best.

“Up to this point, we’ve prepared mentally and physically to be able to perform in this situation,” Roberts said. “We have some tough [women] who love competition, so I think they’re ready to go.”

Among these is junior Lauren Hardesty, who will run the 1,500 meters at Arizona State. She said her personal goal for this weekend is to beat their time of 4:24.73 that she set at Stanford the weekend of March 26. Her mark puts her atop the Big Ten in the event; sister Amanda Hardesty’s 4:28.58 is second.

The Hawkeyes competing at Western Illinois will seek to set personal bests this weekend. Freshman Mariah Jordan, who will run the 110 hurdles and the 200 meters, said she has seen a lot of fast times during practice.

Anderson said the group going to Western Illinois can use these smaller meets to gain experience.

“Hopefully, meets like this will bridge the gap between where they are and where we want them to be in the future,” he said. “We anticipate some of these [women] will be at that level in the future.”

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