For distance, Hawks stay close

BY JORDAN HANSEN | MAY 09, 2014 5:00 AM

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Director of track and field Larry Wieczorek has had an ironclad philosophy when it comes to recruiting distance and cross-country runners.

Get the in-state recruits first, then look elsewhere.

His efforts in the state have been fruitful — 10 of the 16 distance runners on the team are from Iowa.

“If you can get the good in-state kids, that should make the base of your recruiting,” Wieczorek said. “We hope they want to be Hawkeyes, and we hope they’re Big-Ten-level athletes — we always like to begin with the best kids in Iowa.”

Of the 10 current runners from Iowa, many are either up-and-coming or contributing athletes to the team.

Some of those top-tier runners include juniors Ben Witt and Kevin Lewis. Both are from southeastern Iowa and have close ties to the area, so it made sense when they committed to run for the Hawkeyes.

“On my college visits, I was going to other schools and trying to be impartial, but the entire time I was comparing them to the way I felt about Iowa,” Witt said. “I realized that I could be one of those guys to represent my state not only at the regional level but at the national level as well.”

With Iowa having arguably the best distance program in the state, it is not difficult for Wieczorek to grab the in-state talent.

One of the side effects of attracting a large number of recruits from the same state is that many of them competed against each other in high school, which only adds to the competitive spirit among the athletes.

“It is pretty cool to have an all-star Iowa team — Ben Witt was in my class and one of the top guys in my state, and now he’s my roommate,” Lewis said. “It’s cool running with them as opposed to running against them.”

The idea of bringing together guys who have competed against each other in high school incidentally also becomes part of Wieczorek’s philosophy.

Friendly completion against runners whom they are familiar with is encouraged, and many on the team take it to heart.

“It’s always interesting to see some of the people that you used to compete against get better,” sophomore Matt Butler said. “You want to beat the guys you beat in high school and try to beat everyone — you want to be the best in college.”

The distance and cross-country programs haven’t had nearly the amount of success the Hawkeyes enjoyed from 2002-2006, when they competed as a team at the NCAA championships in four out of the five years.

A major hallmark of those teams was an emphasis on in-state distance recruits, and Wieczorek believes that a breakthrough is close once again.

“I think were on the verge of doing something like again with some of the kids we have in the program, so I’m excited about the future,” he said. “We don’t lose a lot from our distance group this year, and I’m anticipating success yet this spring.”

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