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Thode, Hawkeyes want to keep momentum against Nebraska

BY ELDON GIANNAKOUROS | JANUARY 20, 2012 7:20 AM

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The Iowa men's track cruised at home in its season-opener, but it will face its first chance to see where it truly stands this weekend when it takes on No. 5 Nebraska at the Adidas Invitational in Lincoln, Neb.

The Hawkeyes — the defending Big Ten champions — say they want to take the fight to conference newcomer Nebraska.

"We want to step it up from last weekend, for sure," head coach Larry Wieczorek said. "I think our goal is a team-oriented goal of competing against Nebraska in every event and outscoring it."

Nebraska will likely be the Hawkeyes' most powerful opposition on Saturday, but the Black and Gold will also share the track with Houston, Wichita State, and Air Force.

As they face their first major challenge of the season, the Hawkeyes will also have the opportunity to acclimate to the track on which they'll compete at the 2012 Big Ten indoor championships next month. Senior Eric Sowinski said the opportunity to compete on the Devaney Center's hydraulic-banked track — one of only eight in the world, according to the school's athletics website — will be especially important for freshmen and new squad members.

"I doubt any of them ever raced on a banked track in high school; it's a lot different than running on a flat, 200-meter track like we have here," he said. "I think [competing at Nebraska] will boost their confidence when they're back there in a month."

The Black and Gold kicked off the season with a confidence boost at home in the New Year's Classic. The un-scored meet gave the tracksters a chance to put themselves back in competitive form before their first major tests of the indoor season, at Nebraska and at Arkansas on Jan. 27-28.

"All across the board, we saw pretty good performances," Sowinski said. "It was a rust-buster for a lot of guys. We had some guys who didn't compete a month ago and were injured, [and] a lot of guys hadn't raced for a month. It was a chance to get back in the swing of things."

Junior Jeff Thode stole the show at the Classic with his record-breaking 8:53.91 time in the two-mile run. Wieczorek, who set the now-broken record when he ran for Iowa 44 years ago, said he likes to add the two-mile — a race seldom run on the college circuit — to the New Year's Classic as an added incentive for his distance runners to come bounding out of the winter break in chase of his long-standing mark.

Thode did just that, and he can now add another Hawkeye record to a impressive career.

"Through most of my career here at the university, I've been breaking records," he said. "I see it as another record down, and only a few more records to go until I have all the records down and start re-breaking my own records."

Wieczorek and Thode have talked about qualifying for the NCAA indoor championships as quickly as possible rather than letting Thode's season come down to a last-chance meet as it did last year. But the longtime Iowa coach said he feels Thode has a better chance of hitting the all-important four-minute mile mark in later meets than he does in Lincoln this weekend.

With their busy winter schedule well underway, the Hawkeyes said they're eager to stake their claim in the Big Ten as early as possible.

"I think this meet this weekend will tell us a lot about where we are and how we stack up," Wieczorek said.


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