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Iowa track's mercury rising

BY TORK MASON | MAY 11, 2012 6:30 AM

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Many track and field athletes keep track of "paper points" — the number of points the team would score in a meet based on performances throughout the season.

The Iowa track and field team has taken that to another degree.

The Hawkeyes use a paper-point thermometer, which they have kept in their locker room for the past few seasons. The more points they have on paper in the Big Ten, the higher the temperature, and it's updated every week to include the latest results from around the conference.

"I've observed that if you get 100 points at the [Big Ten] meet, you're usually in the top three," head coach Larry Wieczorek said. "And so I said, 'Hey, we want to move to that 100 points.' And one of our goals on our board in the locker room is 'Be a 100-point team.' "

Assistant coach Joey Woody said he talked about the team's goals with his wife, Heather, who is a corporate-success coach. She suggested the team should have some form of visual representation of how it performs.

The coaching staff went with the thermometer graphic for a specific reason, Woody said.

"It was more about how we want to be hot at the right time," he said. "That was the euphemism we wanted to use is that, 'Guys, we want to be really boiling at the right time and hitting it on all cylinders as we head into the [Big Ten] meet.' "

Junior hurdler Ethan Holmes recalled the first time he saw the graphic in the locker room.

"The first time I saw it, our points were kind of low," he said and laughed. "It was kind of a shock to the system a little bit, to see yourself not ranked where you want to be."

The coaching staff also works to determine what each individual needs to do in order to score points at the Big Ten championships. Woody said he and his colleagues look at averages from the past three to five years to find what it takes to score, place in the top three, and win at the conference meet. He said this helps the athletes create more attainable goals by giving them clear targets.

"If you don't know what you're shooting for, how are you going to get there?" he said.

Woody said that's especially important for the athletes who aren't in the first tier in their events. But the thermometer gives the athlete sitting in 15th place an idea of what he needs to do to make it to eighth place, where he can score points.

Holmes said he checks results every weekend and keeps tabs on what other schools and athletes are doing around the conference. He said paper points are beneficial for a team to show the athletes where they are, but it's important to not place too much emphasis on them.

He said it's a good feeling to beat a higher-ranked athlete head-to-head, because it shows he can beat the opponent when it counts even if he's ranked behind him.

But he admitted it isn't a one-way street.

"[Paper points] definitely let us know where we stand, but at the same time, you can't take them too seriously," he said. "It's a good thing to know where you stand going in, but last year we definitely weren't in the lead based on paper points — or even close, at that. You can't let them get to you too much."

The Hawkeyes held 100 points going into last year's conference outdoor meet, and they scored 125.5 at the event itself to win the program's first conference title since 1967. The Black and Gold has 92-94 points on paper going into this weekend's event, Woody said.

Iowa has hovered in the 90-100 point range for most of the season, which has placed the team in fourth going into this weekend.

"That's about where we were last year," Wieczorek said. "So I said, 'Hey, we're contenders. We're underdog contenders, in fourth, but we're contenders.' "

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