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Hawkeye men’s track heads to Big Tens

BY BEN SCHUFF | FEBRUARY 25, 2011 7:20 AM

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During Monday’s track and field practice in the Recreation Building, Iowa assistant coach Joey Woody could be heard asking Steven Willey, “What week is it?”

“Big Tens,” the senior answered simply, yet emphatically.

The 15th-ranked Hawkeyes will head to the University of Illinois for the Big Ten indoor championships this weekend. The meet will start Saturday morning and end late on the afternoon of Feb. 27.

Iowa finished fifth at last year’s indoor championships, scoring 56 points in Minneapolis.

Leading up to this year’s competition, it appears the Hawkeyes have made gains. Six individuals have broken seven school records.

Coaches around the league have taken note. Minnesota head coach Steve Plasencia described the Hawkeyes as “a track program on the rise.” Indiana head coach Ron Helmer has also been impressed by the Hawks.

“When they’re good, they’re really good,” the fourth-year Hoosier head coach said.

Still, Iowa’s coaching staff projected the squad to finish sixth based on paper points. Head coach Larry Wieczorek and Company looked at the top eight performers in every event across the conference. Then, the coaches tallied up team point totals as if each event finished how the current top eight performers are slotted now. In doing so, the Hawkeyes scored 72 points.

The always optimistic head coach said his staff did the same thing last year, and were within a single point of the team’s actual total.

“A general concept I talk about is control the controllables,” Wieczorek said. “If you put your best self on the field, the results will take care of themselves.”

Sprints

This is a group that Plasencia said he was “particularly impressed with.”

Junior transfer Justin Austin has been Iowa’s best sprinter. He has set school records in the 60 and 200 meters, events in which he ranks second and first, respectively, in the Big Ten. Wieczorek feels Austin is a contender to win both the 60 and 200 meters.

Willey will headline the group of Iowa runners in the 400. The senior won the 400 at the outdoor Big Ten Championships last year after finishing second indoors.

Middle Distance

Two members of last year’s All-American 1,600-meter relay highlight this group. Chris Barton will run in the 600, and Erik Sowinski will run in the 800.

Last year, Sowinski finished fourth in the 600. Now, the junior captain knows what to expect from the Big Ten atmosphere.

“It was definitely a learning experience,” he said. “There were a couple of places in my race where I could’ve made smarter moves. Now I’m a year stronger and a year smarter.”

Distance

In a conference full of NCAA qualifiers, the Hawkeyes’ options are limited in the distance events.

Jeff Thode has been one of few bright spots — the sophomore broke the school record in the 3,000 meters. While Thode will run the mile at Big Tens, Wieczorek decided to hold Thode out of the 3,000, saying, “I don’t want to beat him up.”

The distance medley relay will consist of Thode, Sowinski, and Nathan Prom. The 400 leg had yet to be determined by Thursday afternoon.

Throws/Jumps

Iowa will be without the services of high jumper Graham Valdes. The senior was the only high jumper to score points for the Hawkeyes at last year’s indoor meet. He was arrested Monday and charged with assault causing bodily injury for allegedly hitting a man over the head with a champagne bottle.

Troy Doris has qualified for NCAAs with a jump of 54 feet earlier in the year. That mark is better than anyone else in the conference by more than 2 feet.

Doris said, “All this preparation I’ve done and all the time put into triple jumping, it would be somewhat of a catastrophe if I didn’t win Big Tens.”


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