Men’s track NCAA finish disappointing, but not a final verdict

BY BEN SCHUFF | JUNE 14, 2011 7:20 AM

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The Iowa men’s track and field team finally fell victim to expectations.

Throughout the indoor and outdoor seasons, Iowa head coach Larry Wieczorek said the 2011 track and field team was the best group he’s seen in his 24 years with the program. For the most part, the team lived up to those high expectations from January to May.

But everything appeared to come to a crashing halt at the NCAA outdoor track and field championships in Des Moines last week.

Yes, it was disappointing to see a team that had achieved so much over the past five months tie for 46th place with the likes of Weber State and Northern Arizona. And no, those certainly weren’t the results the Hawkeyes were looking for at Drake Stadium.

On paper, a 46th-place finish for this group looks much worse than simply disappointing.
But don’t confuse disappointing with bad.

Is running a career-best or season-best time and missing the NCAA finals by tenths of a second disappointing?

Sure it is, and that scenario played itself out twice for the Hawkeyes last week.

Iowa’s Erik Sowinski crossed the finish line in the 800 meters faster than he ever had before — but his time just missed qualifying for the finals by less than half a second.

The 4x400-meter relay of Steven Willey, Patrick Richards, Sowinski, and Chris Barton ran a season-best time of 3:05.64. Again, Iowa missed qualifying for the finals by fractions of a second.

That doesn’t mean they performed poorly, however.

The Hawkeyes won their first outdoor Big Ten championship in more than five decades just three weeks before the NCAA meet. In late April, Iowa won a Drake Relays title for the first time since 2009.

The indoor season ended with an eighth-place finish at the NCAA indoor meet — the best in school history. The team had its highest finish at the indoor Big Ten championships since 1997 — the squad finished fourth both those years.

Everything up to the NCAAs last week had gone just right for Iowa, it seemed. So when the Hawkeyes didn’t meet expectations in Des Moines, the 46th-place finish seemed like a failure.

But Wieczorek said something very interesting about Ethan Holmes in Des Moines that stands true for the entire team. When Holmes went one-and-done in the 400-meter hurdles, Wieczorek said,

“The funny thing is, you keep going and going until you’re disappointed. We don’t stop soon enough. You’re thrilled, you’re thrilled, you’re thrilled, and then it’s like you go to the Super Bowl, and all of a sudden you’re a loser [if you don’t win].”

This team isn’t “a loser.” This is a team that accomplished much more than anyone outside of the team itself could have expected at the beginning of the indoor season.

Every individual indoor running record, except the 5,000 meters, is owned by a current member of the team, and present Hawkeyes also hold the indoor 4x400 relay and triple-jump records.

And when 14 members of a squad earn outdoor All-American honors, as this team did on Monday, the results speak for themselves.

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