Hawkeye runners hope to continue opening-weekend success

BY BEN ROSS | SEPTEMBER 02, 2011 7:20 AM

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Today marks the kickoff for the Iowa men’s cross-country season, when it competes in the annual Iowa Open meet at the Ashton Cross-Country Course.

The men will compete against Illinois State, a team they have had success against. In its last four meetings against the Redbirds, the Hawkeyes have compiled a 4-0 record. The runners will begin competition at 6:30 p.m.

As in all sports, the first competition of the season will try to answer questions about the team and the runners.

Sophomore runner Jon Michael Brandt thinks that today’s meet will answer a lot of those questions about the condition the squad is in and how the younger athletes will fare throughout the season.

“We have a young team,” he said. “This year, it’s about figuring out where we are and where we can get to. The freshmen don’t know where they will be; they have to get used to running 8 [kilometers].”

Iowa will also be without its lone senior, Chase Kadlec, who is still battling a nagging Achilles tendinitis injury. He would rather be running, but he will offer words of encouragement.

“Go out as a pack,” he said. “Everyone’s rusty, so try to stick together as a pack. Don’t break away until the end.”

The past few years have been what head coach Larry Wieczorek calls “a rebuilding phase,” an attempt to restore the luster of the Hawkeye runners who qualified for the NCAA championships four out of five years in 2002, 2004, 2005, and 2006.

Wieczorek believes this team can make it to the NCAAs, and it all starts with junior runner Jeff Thode.

Thode is the sixth All-American in Iowa’s history, the first since 1998. He is the first runner at Iowa to ever clock a sub 4-minute mile and placed sixth in the mile and eighth in the 5,000 meters at the NCAA championships. His 5,000 meter time of 14:16:00 ranks fifth best in school history.

With his list of achievements, one would expect Thode to take the first meet of the season with full confidence. But he said that he still needs to work out some kinks, while he hopes that the rest of squad can gain attention as well.

“For me, [today] will definitely be for shaking some rust off,” he said. “But I think people will begin to notice us as a team and not individualize us as much. People will see more pack-running and more of a team effort.”

Emotions range on the Hawkeye squad. While Thode looks at this meet with focus and optimism, Brandt is much more relaxed and confident in the team’s abilities after going through practice this week.

“Practice wasn’t too different this week than it has been in the past,” the Minnesota native said.

“Thursday is a recovery day, and this week had average workouts. We always have a workout Friday, [and] this week it just happens to be a race.”

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