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Hawkeyes stagnant near end of season

BY SAM LOUWAGIE | NOVEMBER 18, 2010 7:20 AM

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The Iowa men's cross-country team's goals seemed perfectly within reach on Oct. 15.

The Hawkeyes had just dominated the Bradley Classic with a 38-point victory, and 10 runners set personal bests. The harriers spoke optimistically about the team's chances to earn a berth in the NCAA meet, and head coach Larry Wieczorek's talk of his squad being a "late-developing team" was being validated.

What did the team do from there?

Not much, really.

"We ran very well at the Bradley Classic, ran very fast times," Wieczorek said. "We would've beaten a lot of teams that day. But as a team, we kind of stagnated from there."

The encouraging performance at Bradley didn't lead to the hard-charging improvement Wieczorek had hoped for. A letdown performance in the Big Ten meet — in which the Hawkeyes placed ninth — and a mediocre seventh-place finish at the NCAA Midwest Regional brought a somewhat disappointing end to a season that Wieczorek said was ultimately "mildly successful."

Freshman Nick Young wasn't sure how to explain the lack of late-season improvement.

"You can't really put it on any one thing," he said. "I don't really think anyone was burning out or anything. Every guy put it all out there every race; we just didn't get it together at those meets."

Sophomore Jeff Thode had an idea.

"Mental focus," he said. "Before the Bradley meet, we looked at a list of the teams, and we said 'OK, let's just focus, and go out there, and show them all we should be going to nationals.' Then after the Big Ten meet, we lost our focus a little bit and weren't on top of our game."

Injuries also hurt Iowa's chances of developing into an NCAA-contending team. Sophomore Nick Holmes was expected to challenge Thode and Mark Battista at the top of Iowa's lineup, but never made it onto the course after suffering leg and Achilles injuries. His absence hurt the team not only from a depth standpoint, Wieczorek said, but also psychologically. Junior Chase Kadlec also suffered an abdominal injury, and while he didn't miss the entire season, Wieczorek said the injury limited his performance.

The season wasn't without its positives, however. Wieczorek cited Thode's star performance, senior captain Battista's dependable consistency, and the development of the team's freshman runners as high points of the year. He also praised the team's energy and enthusiasm, calling it "everything a coach could ask for."

But at the beginning of the season, Iowa had its sights firmly set on competing as a team in the NCAA meet. Only Thode will achieve that goal. The Schaumburg, Ill., native will run as an individual in the race at approximately 11:48 (CST) at the LaVern Gibson Championship Course in Terre Haute, Ind.

"We didn't reach the goals we set for ourselves," Wieczorek said. "We had some adversity. But every program has to overcome adversity, and I'd say our season fell a bit short. I would have been happier with just another step forward."


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