Eight Hawks set for for NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships

BY IAN MARTIN | JUNE 06, 2012 6:30 AM

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Drake Stadium isn't Iowa's home track, but it might as well be for the next four days.

Eight Hawkeyes will compete in nine events in Des Moines from today through Saturday, hoping to leave more of an impression on the home-state meet than last year's 46th-place finish.

The Hawkeyes have to travel a mere two hours to Drake Stadium for the championships for the second-consecutive year. There's a calming familiarity to the blue track — senior 5K competitor McKenzie Melander said it has a "comfy feeling."

And then there's the crowd.

"There are going to be a lot of Hawkeye fans there … a lot of Black and Gold," senior 800-meter runner Erik Sowinski said.

But in a stadium in which many Iowa athletes have raced for several competitions — whether in last year's NCAAs or the annual Drake Relays — the success hasn't come as easy as the drive.

"When we left Drake last year, we wanted to come back [in 2012] and have more of an impact at the meet," head coach Larry Wieczorek said.

With just six men and two women set to run, jump, and throw, Iowa likely won't be at the top of the leaderboard. But the Hawkeyes have numerous chances for medals.

Iowa's best shot at gold may be Troy Doris. The senior won the triple jump at this year's Drake Relays, upsetting favorite Omar Craddock of Florida. He also had the highest finish of any Hawkeye in the NCAA qualifiers when he took second at the West Regional on May 25.

Wieczorek said the precedent for success this season has been set by cocaptains Doris and Sowinski. They were the only two Hawkeye first team All-Americans at the NCAA indoor track and field championships in March — Doris earned fourth in the triple jump, and Sowinski took bronze in the 800 meters. The seniors were exactly the leaders their coach hoped they would be when they became captains.

"They've done just about everything in terms of having success," Wieczorek said. "Oftentimes we throw clichés around, but we couldn't ask for two better role models."

But Sowinski is cautious. The senior doesn't expect an easy race just because he won bronze in the winter.

One reason is that there are some "really talented guys" who only compete in the outdoor season, he said.

Instead of expecting to win, the athletes want to run their best race, toss their longest javelin or hammer, or jump as far as possible. Especially after qualifiers where most were near or at the last eligible spot for making it to the Des Moines finals, it's a mantra of no regret.

An exemplar of this attitude is Melander, making her first and last trip to the NCAAs as a senior. She knew her regional qualifying time of 16:26.06 in the 5,000 meter race wasn't up to her capability.

"It definitely wasn't the fastest [time I've run]," said Melander, whose personal best is 15:57.13. "For this race, it's going to be 'put everything out there.' "

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