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Hawkeye freshman trackster Butler bounces from injury to shocking victory

BY TOMMY REINKING | DECEMBER 05, 2012 6:30 AM

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In a split second, the crowd at the Black and Gold Intrasquad started to cheer.

Freshman Matt Butler unbelievably had just passed Iowa record-holder and 2012 graduate Eric Sowinski on the final lap of the mile race. As the runners got closer and closer to the finish line, and Sowinski started to catch up to the unlikely leader, the volume of the crowd grew louder.

By a split second, 0.9 seconds to be exact, Butler held off a final charge by Sowinski as the crowd erupted.

“I was standing on the backstretch watching the finish and how the crowd was reacting,” head coach Larry Wieczorek said. “They really got into it. This was just an intrasquad track meet, and the crowd was into it. That made an impression on me.”

Butler couldn’t have asked for a better start to his inaugural Iowa track season. A strained hamstring before the first meet of the cross-country season sidelined the runner and eventually forced him to redshirt.

The Bettendorf native never got to run a race in cross-country, but he showed he is more than ready to compete in the track season. Butler beat his goal time by six seconds.

“Honestly, I knew I was in OK shape,” he said. “So I didn’t really know what time I was going to run. I was really surprised with the time. Having Eric Sowinski in the race really motivates you to do your best.”

Sowinski was a five-time All-American in middle-distance events for Iowa. He won the Big Ten indoor 800-meter championship and set school records in the indoor 600 meters and 800 meters.

One person particularly struck by Butler’s victory was volunteer assistant coach Russ Peterson.

“A lot of people kind of underestimate him a little bit,” he said. “I kind of expected him to run well, because he had been training really well, but maybe not to that level.”

Wieczorek has a Big Ten qualifying standard in each event that athletes must match in order to travel with the team. The time necessary to make the team in the mile is 4:16 seconds. Butler’s time was 4:14.65 seconds.

Wieczorek said Butler showed some strengths that have the potential to give the runner a promising career.

“One of his real attributes is his closing speed,” he said. “He’s very explosive. As he develops more strength, endurance, stamina, and is able to kick like that, that’s a very good weapon for a collegiate runner.”

Butler was a four-time letter winner in cross-country and track in high school, and he was an all-state runner as a senior. He placed first in the 1,600 meters, fifth in the 3,200 meters, and sixth in the 1,600-meter medley at the state track meet as a senior.

“We’re just getting acquainted with Matt,” Wieczorek said. “He hasn’t even been here a semester yet, but he’s got the qualities of a successful student athlete. He’s got good habits. Good habits are sometimes more important than great talent.”

Despite all the commotion and what impression his victory has made on his coaches and the fans, Butler said that there’s still a lot of races left in the season.

“It’s definitely a good start to Division-I running,” Butler said. “It’s a steppingstone, and there’s still a lot of work to do.”


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