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Men's track pulls in nine titles at Iowa Invitational

BY ELDON GIANNAKOUROS | FEBRUARY 20, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Iowa men's track team put on a show at the Iowa Invitational during its final meet of the indoor season on Feb. 17.

The Hawkeyes won nine first-place titles in the crowded Recreation Building, making it the show and momentum swing the team had hoped for ahead of its Big Ten indoor meet date in Lincoln, Neb., this weekend.

"It was a fun night; we had a lot of good performances. It was great to have the place full of people," head coach Larry Wieczorek said. "I really like to be able to entertain with track and field and make people have fun, and tonight, that was the case."

All-American Justin Austin rediscovered his form in front of the home crowd. The junior took first place in the 60 and 200 meters. His time of 6.71 seconds in the 60 was a season best; his 21.48 seconds in the 200 β€” a strong time on a flat track β€” was the first official time he's posted in three meets. He was disqualified in the 200 on two separate occasions this season.

"I was a little on edge before this meet," Austin said. "We came here, we put a solid time down, I won, and my confidence is up β€” that's all I was waiting for all season, for my confidence to come up. Today was the first meet where I said, 'You know what? I'm going to go out there and compete,' and it shows."

Jeff Thode coasted to a first-place win in a rare 800-meter outing for an athlete who usually runs the longer distances. Thode paced himself for the first half of the race, then easily moved to the front of the pack and stayed there. The All-American junior made the win seem easy but said winning wasn't his primary concern.

"We were trying to set it up like the last 800 in a mile, so we're trying to work on speed and trying to work on my finish," Thode said. "The game plan we set up was to go out with the group but don't be leading, stay with the group in first or second, and then push the last 200."

It was an idea Wieczorek and Thode hatched earlier in the week to prep the runner for the Big Ten championships.

Thode's absence in the mile allowed three of Iowa's less-heralded distance runners to show their development with a strong pack finish. Kevin Lewis, Nick Holmes, and Ben Witt took first, second, and third with times of 4:12.47, 4:12.86, and 4:13.07. Lewis, a freshman, pulled into first ahead of Holmes early in the race and kept just ahead of his junior teammate to capture a landmark time ahead of the biggest race of his inaugural season.

"I got a [personal record] by almost two seconds," he said. "I've got to just ride the momentum and hopefully make another [personal record] at the Big Ten meet."

Lewis showed improvement, but Witt provided the drama. With just minutes to go in his last attempt to make the Big Ten meet traveling team, he put his feet to floor and pushed his way into a third-place finish and on the 32-man traveling squad.

"I had a good set of teammates that were going to take me through," Witt said. "I went along for the ride with them, and then halfway through, I felt good. I knew that was it, I knew I had it, and I just kicked through."

The Hawkeyes' next meet will be the Big Tens, where they'll try to solidify their position atop the Big Ten.

"We made some good strides forward tonight, definitely," Wieczorek said.


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