Relay hopes higher than Big Tens for the outdoor season

BY AMY TIFFANY | APRIL 06, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa 4x400-meter relay team that took second place at the indoor Big Ten meet didn’t get what the runners wanted. That result, assistant coach Clive Roberts said, was unacceptable.

But the members have moved forward. What happened in the indoor season is in the past.

And now, the relay team — senior captain Tiffany Hendricks, senior Bethany Praska, junior Nicole Erickson, and freshman Ashley Liverpool — is going into the outdoor season seeking vengeance.

Although Roberts said this lineup isn’t set in cement with those four athletes — see April 2, when freshman Erin Jones took a stab in the race at the LSU Invitational — no matter who participates for the Iowa “A” team, there’s one thing the runners want: a Big Ten title. Furthermore, the Hawkeyes want to compete at the NCAA outdoor championships.

“Our 4x4 goal is definitely, definitely get that [Big Ten] championship title and get to nationals,” Hendricks said.

Praska said the success of the relay this year has been due to a combination of different factors, including the upperclassmen performing well and the contributions of talented underclassmen.

Erickson said the training is as crucial as any other reason for the relay’s success this year. She and Praska trained more like 800-meter runners, which helps with endurance in a shorter race such as the 400, the Cedar Rapids native said.

“We got murdered in the fall, but it’s paid off,” Erickson said.

Over the course of the indoor season, the relay broke the school record numerous times. Then, at Big Tens, the Hawks took second place with a time of 3:37.58, breaking the school record once again. They went to the last chance meet for one final opportunity to make it to NCAAs.

They recorded an even faster time at the last-chance meet, again breaking the school record with a time of 3:36.97, but it was not quite fast enough to qualify.

“I think there’s some disappointment,” head coach Layne Anderson said. “They didn’t get to the NCAA meet. While they made some great progress, I think at the end of the day they recognized that and they’re happy about that, but at the same time they’re partially disappointed, which is great.

“That’s what you want, that they didn’t run 3:35 and get to the NCAA meet, so I think they’ll certainly be able to qualify for the first round [of NCAAs] in Eugene [Ore.] and then from that point on, they realize they’re going to have to run even faster and be better.”

So it was back to the track.

Over spring break, the sprinters stayed on campus to practice. They opened the outdoor season on April 2 at the LSU Invitational, with Hendricks, Praska, Liverpool, and Jones taking fourth place with a time of 3:41.39.

Roberts said recruiting athletes for the relay hasn’t always been a focus for the Hawkeyes, but he has made it a priority because of the importance of the event for the morale of the team closing a meet.

“We always want to leave the track, good or bad, doesn’t matter what’s happened before that, we always want to leave the track on a high …” he said. “That not only helps us as a group but us as a team. Everyone’s watching that, everyone’s seeing that there are four girls who are united, pushing, so that’s from the throwers to the distance runners to the vertical jumpers to the horizontal jumpers to the hurdlers, that’s the last thing they see.

“A lot of times, you’ll remember the last things you see at a track meet or the last thing you do at a track meet … as long as I’m here at the University of Iowa, we’ll always push to have a really good 4-by-4 team because it shows strength and it brings people together.”

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