Women’s track and field team not treating NCAAs differently

BY AMY TIFFANY | MARCH 11, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Recreation Building was surprisingly quiet on Tuesday afternoon. Some Iowa track and field athletes trickled in for workouts, and some were in the midst of practice, but many Hawkeyes were absent from their regular indoor practice facility.

Enter senior Bethany Praska and junior McKenzie Melander. It was unusual to see these two dressed in street clothes, but the reason was an exciting one for the Iowa women’s track and field team and coaching staff.

Both Praska and Melander will compete in the women’s indoor track and field NCAA championships this weekend in College Station, Texas.

Melander, a junior distance runner from Apple Valley, Minn., and Praska, a senior from Longmont, Colo., will experience the NCAAs for the first time in their college careers. Melander will run in the mile, and Praska will compete in the 800 meters.

Assistant coach Clive Roberts, who works with Praska, said he hasn’t told her anything different from what he has all season for her approach. He said her training, practices, and results up to this point of the indoor season have shown that she could make it this far.

“Let’s go and challenge ourselves,” Roberts said. “Winning is going to take care of itself.”

After it became official on Monday night that she was going to NCAAs, Praska said she felt a “nervous, excited energy.”

But she said going into the preliminaries today, she’ll look at it just like any other meet.

“It’s just going out and trying to run another fast time,” she said.

Melander, who is coached primarily by head coach Layne Anderson, said she was anxious to find out if she was going to make it on Monday evening. She talked about an approach to the meet where she won’t enter with any expectations.

“I hate to say I don’t have any expectations,” she said. “But I’m happy just to be going to begin with.”

Melander said she knows the competition will be tough, but she said she’s not going to worry about anyone except herself and her race.

Anderson said both Melander and Praska have put in a lot of work.

“Coming into the season, if you talked to Coach Roberts about Bethany or I looked at McKenzie in our distance group, the potential to be at the NCAA meet,” Anderson said. “I would have said both young ladies, if things go well, stay healthy, continue to progress, and then race when given the opportunity, I would have told you at the beginning of the year they’re two legitimate candidates to be at the NCAA meet.”

And now they both are there. Preliminary races will begin this morning, and finals will run through Saturday afternoon.

“We feel like they’re both in great shape,” Anderson said. “And both ready to run an even better race if given the opportunity.”

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