Point/counterpoint: In which event will the track team perform best at the NCAA Championships?

BY DI STAFF | JUNE 07, 2011 7:20 AM

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Men’s 4x400 relay

The 2011 NCAA outdoor track and field championships will begin on Wednesday in Des Moines, and everyone who can make the trip should go — not just to experience all that the State Capital has to offer (no sarcasm intended) but to watch the Hawkeyes finish first in the 4x400 relays.

The four men who will bring the gold to Iowa City are Steven Willey, Erik Sowinski, Patrick Richards, and Ethan Holmes. The group has all the necessary intangibles to have success in Drake Stadium: great coaching, superior talent, and more of a home-field advantage than almost anyone else in the tournament.

Willey, Sowinski, and Richards all earned All-American honors in the 4x400 relay at the 2010 NCAA meet, and Willey was also an All-American in the 400 meters by placing 15th at the same meet. These three are also all upperclassmen, and the experience they have gained from competing on college track’s ultimate stage will be beneficial.

Holmes is just a sophomore, but what he lacks in experience he makes up for in his flexibility. In just his second year, he has proven to be a versatile and valuable asset to the Hawkeyes by breaking records and racing in many different events, from hurdles to relays.

Not only does this fearsome foursome boast superior talent, the members are led by one of the best track and field stars in Iowa history. Head coach Larry Wieczorek graduated from Iowa in 1969 as a six-time Big Ten champion and a four time All-American. He led the Hawkeye men to the 2011 outdoor Big Ten championship, their first title since 1967.

To top it off, these Hawkeyes own an advantage that none of their competitors will have. I technically can’t call it a home-field advantage because the championships aren’t in Iowa City, but the venue in Des Moines gives Iowa a home-state advantage that is almost unmatched (Iowa State and Drake are both sending competitors but will not participate in the 4x400).

Because the seats will be packed with Black and Gold fans, the men’s 4x400 relay team will be victorious — mark my words.

— by Erik Papke

Men’s 800 meters

Throughout the 2011 track and field season, Erik Sowinski has remained relatively quiet.

Newcomers Justin Austin and Troy Doris provided huge boosts for the team; both won individual titles at the outdoor conference championships three weeks ago. Matt Byers broke the Big Ten record in the javelin at the first outdoor meet of the year. Jeff Thode ran the school’s first sub-4 minute mile. Ethan Holmes emerged as not only one of the top hurdlers in the Big Ten but in the entire country.

Even Iowa head coach Larry Wieczorek jokingly said prior to the start of the indoor season that he sometimes forgets Sowinski is even on the team.

That will change after this week’s NCAA championships.

The junior will face a very tough field in Des Moines. Every runner who posted a top-12 time throughout the outdoor season passed the preliminary test at the East or West Regionals. The Hawkeye cocaptain will head to the last stop of the NCAA meet with the 18th-fastest 800 time in the country. While it may seem like he has a lot of ground to make up, it is nothing new to him.

Sowinski said last week that he will simply “run to make the finals” at Drake Stadium. That isn’t the first time he has stated that as his goal heading into a big meet, and it is a mindset that has worked before.

At the end of the indoor season, Sowinski’s season-best time of 1:47.98 was only the 14th-fastest time nationally. But at the indoor NCAA meet in mid-March, he placed fourth and was named an All-American.

The Waukesha, Wis., native has plenty of momentum, too, as he prepares to run on the Blue Oval. Sowinski placed second at the Big Ten championships in Iowa City in the 800 meters.

He followed that by placing third in his heat at the first round in Eugene, Ore., good for an automatic qualifying spot in Des Moines.

What might be most impressive about his performance in the first round was the fashion in which he finished. Sowinski said it wasn’t pretty, as he was tripped up a bit during the final 200 meters of the race.

But by automatically qualifying, he proved he can run with the nation’s best even when he isn’t at his best.

— by Ben Schuff

Women’s 5,000 meters

The main event to watch at the NCAA meet is the women’s 5,000 meters.

The 5,000 meters is the second-longest of the track events, and it requires both tactics and endurance. The runners have to maintain a great pace throughout the race, while conserving enough energy to separate from the pack near the conclusion. The amount of training that must be completed to compete in the event is enough reason to watch by itself.

Iowa fans have two other reasons to tune in, though — Hawkeye juniors Betsy Flood and Brooke Eilers. Both set career bests in the event during the qualifying stages in Eugene, Ore., on May 28. Flood ran a 16:04.46, good for fifth, and Eilers finished 12th at 16:11.86.

The duo has had plenty of success in Drake Stadium, too. Flood, a Des Moines native, set a season-best time in the 1,500 meters during the Drake Relays in April, and she has said competing in front of her friends and family has been a motivating factor in the past.

That meet was also the site of Iowa’s second-place finish in the 4x1,600 relays. Flood and Eilers ran the first two legs of the race, propelling the Hawkeyes to a 19:17.52 time.

In short, Flood and Eilers know how to run in front of the Drake Stadium crowd, and this event will yield strong results for Iowa while demonstrating how the coaching staff prepared the them to perform on the highest stage.

No matter what the results are, you are going to see these women put everything on the line. That’s all you can ask for as a sports fan.

— by Sam Odeyemi & Seth Roberts

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