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On an average day, Thode shines

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | NOVEMBER 15, 2010 7:20 AM

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The Iowa men's cross-country team didn't lose to any squads they shouldn't have on Nov. 13 at the NCAA Midwest Regional. But the Hawkeyes, who finished seventh, didn't beat anyone they weren't expected to either.

For most of the team, it was that kind of day. Almost everyone ran well enough, head coach Larry Wieczorek said, but the Hawkeyes didn't take a big enough step in their improvement to make a difference in the result.

Except Jeff Thode.

The sophomore star finished the 10,000-meter race in 29:55, beating the previous Hawkeye record by 15 seconds. The performance was good for a fifth-place finish, a second-straight All-Region honor, and a bid to the NCAA championships.

Wieczorek called Thode's performance "sensational."

"It was the smartest race he's ever run," Wieczorek said. "Jeff's an aggressive runner, but he recognized you can't just attack all race against this kind of competition."

The 24-year head coach lauded Thode's ability to rein in his aggressiveness and, instead, use patience. Thode said his plan was to spend the early portion of the race in the pack chasing the leaders, rather than attempting to run with them. That left him enough energy, Wieczorek said, to "flip the switch" with a kilometer left and pull away.

For much of the race, Thode was almost literally shoulder-to-shoulder with Minnesota senior Ben Blankenship, who holds his school's record in the mile. Thode's conservation of energy allowed him to "out-kick" Blankenship.

"Jeff ran an amazing race," freshman Jon Michael Brandt said. "There's not a whole lot else to say. He played it extremely smart and just did what he does."

Behind Thode, however, the team had a solid but unspectacular day. Mark Battista came in 29th with a career-best time of 30:45. He said he had hoped to finish higher but said he didn't have any regrets about his performance in a heavily competitive race.

"Nothing really went wrong," he said. "I ran one of my best races and did everything I could do. There were just a lot of good guys this year."

Juniors Sam Bailin followed in 47th place and Chase Kadlec in 56th. The Hawkeyes finished with freshman Andrew Smith, Nick Young, and Brandt.

After Thode's blazing finish, it was a decent day for Iowa. But not a great one, which is what they needed to make noise in the regional meet.

"It was a positive day because of the effort we put out there," Wieczorek said. "Everyone ran about as well as we expected. But we didn't make that next jump like we had hoped."

He wasn't talking about Thode, who will attempt to become Iowa's first All-American in more than a decade on Nov. 22 at the NCAA meet.

"It feels pretty good," Thode said. "It was one of my goals for the season, but I would've liked to have the team qualify, too."


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