Hawkeyes hope to fill void in 400-meter hurdles

BY BEN SCHUFF | MARCH 23, 2011 7:20 AM

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Iowa head coach Larry Wieczorek joked that it may take two or three athletes in the 400-meter hurdles to replace the production the men's track and field team got from Ray Varner.

A senior last year, Varner scored 10 of the Hawkeyes' 86 points at the 2010 outdoor Big Ten championships with a first-place finish.

Through the course of his career, he was a consistent scorer for Iowa, earning points at outdoor Big Tens in his event every year except for his freshman season.

Though no time is a good time to lose an athlete the caliber of Varner, the Hawkeyes are hoping — and confident — they have those two or three hurdlers on this year's team in D'Juan Richardson, Ethan Holmes, and Keaton Rickels.

"Ray was a big loss for us last year in many ways," Wieczorek said. "He was a leader. He was a Big Ten champion, and a NCAA qualifier. But I feel good, even though we lost Ray, that we've got some able-bodied replacements for him."

The current trio will provide a mix of youth and experience.

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Richardson has been a reliable source of points at Big Ten meets through the first two years of his career. He has scored in the 60 and 200 meters indoors and the 4x100 relay outdoors as well.

While Wieczorek referred to the junior as "Mr. Versatility," the 400-meter hurdles will be where Iowa needs him most this outdoor season. The Indianapolis native placed eighth and seventh in the event his freshman and sophomore seasons.

Richardson's main focus now has been on technique going over the hurdles and maintaining speed in between.

"Going through all the races that I've been through, each one is a little different in the way you race it," he said. "But just going out there and being competitive is what it really comes down to, and if I can just keep that in mind when I'm doing the 400 hurdles, it should work well for me."

Holmes is coming off a stellar indoor season in which he earned all-American honors as a member of the 4x400 meter relay. The sophomore consistently improved his times in the 400 meters throughout the indoor season, something that should help him in the 400 hurdles outdoors.

Assistant coach Joey Woody said Holmes is running times similar to Varner's in the 400 meters indoors, and he is splitting faster times in the 4x400 meter relay than Varner did.

Woody also said Richardson's speed and endurance in the 400 improved during the indoor season, and he is encouraged by the direction the two are headed.

"Last year, they made some big strides," Woody said about Holmes and Richardson. "This year, I think they'll make even bigger strides based on what we did during the indoor season."

While Rickels may not have the accolades of his teammates, the sophomore may prove to be an X-factor of sorts should he attain the coaches' goal of scoring at the Big Ten meet in May. Simply scoring a point or two would go a very long way toward the squad's hopes of winning the Big Ten meet in Iowa City.

Rickels, along with Richardson and Holmes, will certainly have the necessary coaching to make the next jump and finish in the top eight at the Big Tens.

Woody was a national champion in the 400 hurdles during his college career and a silver medalist in the event at the 2003 world championships.

"I don't think there is any coach who knows as much on the 400 hurdles," Rickels said. "He has as much experience as anybody and is second to none."

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