Iowa 1,600-meter relay squad continues successful season despite juggling lineup


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The 1,600-meter relay is held in high regard at Iowa.

It's a race also known as the 4x400 relay or the 4-by-4. It is the final event of a women's track meet. It's the last chance to score points. It's the last time to shine before a meet comes to a close.

And for the Hawkeyes — whose season has been equivalent to a roller-coaster ride — it's always been a goal to end meets on a high note. When the rest of Iowa women's tracksters have been spotty and inconsistent, the 1,600-meter relay team has continually served as the backbone of the team.

And the 4-by-4 team hasn't had a set lineup for the entire season.

"We only have two returning girls from the 4-by-4 team last season, so it's been hard to make up for the seniors we lost," senior Nicole Erickson said. "We've been improving every week. We're still not where we want to be at, though."

Erickson and sophomore Ashley Liverpool are the two returning runners from last season's 1,600 relay team — and because Liverpool has been nursing an injury for majority of the season, Erickson has been the only consistent member this season.

Two athletes crucial to Iowa's past relay dominance graduated last season. Tiffany Hendricks and Bethany Praska ran the second and fourth legs of the relay team, which finished second in the Big Ten indoor championships and was the champion of the outdoor conference championships.

But Iowa's 1,600-meter relay remains a force in the Big Ten even with the lack of experience and scramble to find new members for the team. The Hawkeye relay squad has beaten each conference foe that it has faced this season.

"Coach [Clive] Roberts always talks about how important the 4-by-4 is at the University of Iowa," Erickson said. "It's a big deal for us."

The assistant coach preaches the importance of the relay to his athletes on a daily basis. He said it gives Iowa an opportunity to leave the meet on a high note because it comes at the end of a competition. He also said it's the last thing everybody remembers from a meet; that lasting impression can sit inside the mind of opponents and intimidate them the next time the teams compete.

Roberts also said the end of the meet can prove to be a "springboard" into the next meet. That kind of confidence is exactly what the Hawkeyes need whenever they begin a new competition.

"It starts the preparation for the next meet," he said. "It's on us to make sure the Iowa Hawkeyes are looking good at the end of the day and to help the team feel good about going into the next meet. We've just been trying to find the right order for majority of the season."

That order has come in many forms; a different set of Hawkeyes has participated in each meet of the season.

The team for the season-opening New Year's Classic in Iowa City consisted of Erickson, Liverpool, and sophomores Raven Moore and Kelsey Quinn. The following weekend in Lincoln, Neb., the relay showcased Erickson, Quinn, junior Hannah Simonson, and senior Kelsey Mims. The same group ran for Iowa at the Razorback Invitational, but in a different order. And this past weekend at Iowa State, Simonson, Erickson, and Liverpool were on board, and freshman Victoria Sack joined the crew.

Sack said she knew the importance of performing at her best in the relay, because Iowa has taken the 4-by-4 seriously since Roberts took over coaching the event when he arrived at the university in 2009.

The freshman did not disappoint her teammates. But to her, the opportunity to represent the Black and Gold was an honor in itself.

"I feel privileged that I can run in the relay as a freshman," she said. "I just have to give everything that I have to stay in the lineup."

That kind of attitude is what has driven the relay team all season, no matter who carries the baton.

"Tomorrow is a different day," Roberts said. "The best four girls that are good to go are going to run."

Follow DI women's track and field reporter Cody Goodwin on Twitter.

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