Iowa men's tracksters ready to start repeat bid


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The Iowa men's track team has plenty to be confident about.

The Hawkeyes are just a few months removed from a triumphant 2011 outdoor season that they capped with a victory at the Big Ten outdoor championships. Head coach Larry Wieczorek said the team's off-season training yielded visible improvement at last weekend's intrasquad meet, and the month leading up to the squad's Jan. 14, 2012, indoor season-opening meet should prove just as fruitful.

"I think we're rightfully optimistic about what can happen this year if all goes well," Wieczorek said. "I think our guys believe they can be Big Ten champions again."

The Hawkeyes did lose a handful of conference scorers to graduation, but the Black and Gold will start the season with a battle-tested roster including Big Ten Athlete of the Year Justin Austin, NCAA qualifier Ethan Holmes, Big Ten individual champions Matt Byers and Troy Doris, and All-Americans Jeff Thode and Eric Sowinski.

In addition, Wieczorek said he feels there may be a few pleasant young surprises on his roster.

"We have reasons to be optimistic," he said. "[We're] losing some key people; we can't replace them exactly, but we have reinforcements coming with some of our recruits, and some of our redshirts, and a great group of returning athletes this year."

The team has plenty of potential, and a conference repeat could be within reach. But another Big Ten title isn't the focus Wieczorek sets for his athletes at every practice.

"What I've set for us is being a better track and field team than we were last year," the 13th-year head coach said. "We can be a better team than last year and not necessarily win the Big Ten — but if we're a better team than last year, we'll definitely be in the hunt.

"We'll be contenders."

The focus is something the team has discussed since the 2011 season ended, and Austin said the change in focus and tempo is tangible at each practice.

"The standards have been raised; we're not just a track team, we're Big Ten champions," the junior sprinter said. "Everybody is gunning for the No. 1 spot, and we're No. 1 until proven differently."

Wieczorek said the squad hopes to score in each event at the Big Ten outdoor championships this season as a visible result of the Hawkeyes' focus on improvement.

Their major meets are still a ways away, but the defending league champions say they're focused on providing performances that will prove they earned their status as the Midwest's elite.

"I think we're definitely going to be a stronger team than we were last year," Sowinski said, "We can't really control what other teams do, we can control that we're getting better.

"That will set us up for big things. But exactly what those are? Only time will tell."

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