Past and Present Teammates Earn Success at Iowa

Oct. 18, 2006

By Jennifer Bissell, Iowa Sports Information

They were teammates on the 2001 Class AA state cross country championship team from Glen Ellyn, Illinois. Now they’re running together at the University of Iowa and hoping to end the season as cross country all-Americans.

Senior Micah VanDenend is going for this fourth NCAA appearance, and junior Eric MacTaggart will be trying for his third appearance at the NCAA regionals. Both have been quality athletes for the program and hope to help the Hawkeyes reach its highest finish at the NCAA championships in school history.

“They are very unique in our program. They have put together the best string of appearances that I’ve seen as a coach. They’re also unique in that they come from the same high school,” said Head Coach Larry Wieczorek.

VanDenend started his career in cross country at a young age. In elementary school, he was always the fastest running the mile. His family had a history of running.

“My father had been a runner in high school, and my older brother was running in high school at the time. My older brother started pushing my dad to sign me up for a track club. He did when I was in fifth grade. I have pretty much been running competitively since then,” he said.

In high school, Micah was a two-time cross country conference champion; however he said his greatest accomplishment was helping his team win the cross country championship.

“Our high school had never had a state trophy of any kind, in any sport, in school history until that point,” he said.

When it came time to decide on college, the decision to come to Iowa was fairly simple.

“I can sum up why I chose Iowa in two words: Larry Wieczorek. I visited a number of other schools and, honestly, most colleges are more or less the same. All of the campuses were pretty nice, I got along with the guys on the team, I would get a good education. Coach Wieczorek set Iowa apart from the others,” he said.

VanDenend has had a very successful career as a Hawkeye. In addition to qualifying for the NCAAs every year, VanDenend has been a second team all-Big Ten selection and was named the Big Ten Male Cross Country Athlete of the Week in his 2002 debut.

MacTaggart also got this start in cross country at a young age. He started running on Tuesday nights in the summer at the Glen Ellyn running club. His success propelled him to run cross country in sixth and eighth grades.

Once in high school, MacTaggart continued to improve. He was a two-time conference champion and placed fifth at the state cross country meet his junior year. Like VanDenend, MacTaggart is proud, not only of his personal accomplishments, but also the team accomplishments.

“I’m most proud of my 8:55 two mile I ran my senior year. That one race was a breakthrough for me. I’m also proud about earning all-state status multiple times and all the great teams I was on at Glenbard South,” he said.

Like VanDenend, MacTaggart was drawn to the atmosphere Iowa offered. Being a music major, he also liked the education he would receive.

Even though VanDenend was on the team, MacTaggart didn’t make his decision to run at Iowa just to be with a former teammate.

“Micah might have played a small role, but not as big of a role as people might think. I’m glad he’s my teammate because he pushes me everyday in practice and is a great person to train with,” he said.

MacTaggart has also experienced his share of success as a Hawkeye. In addition to being an NCAA qualifier, he has also set an Ashton Course record, been named to the academic all-Big Ten list, and earned all-region honors at the NCAA midwest regionals.

“They’re terrific athletes, and as I got to know them, I saw they’re great students and good people,” said Wieczorek.

“They also come from a winning program with days great high school coaching. They have a winning attitude from their high school days. They’re terrific competitors. They have a real passion for cross country and long distance running. They’re everything I’m looking for in a student athlete.”

So far both have run well this year. At the pre-nationals race on October 14, VanDenend placed sixth while MacTaggart finished 25th. Both hope to continue to improve and be named all-Americans.

“I think both are capable. On a good day they could contend for the top 25 to 30. That would make them all-Americans. I think they’re both in the hunt for a top 30 spot,” said Wieczorek.

While graduation is still a ways off, both have lofty goals for the future. VanDenend plans to stay around Iowa City to train for the 2008 Olympic Trials. He’d also like to become a college cross country and track coach some day. MacTaggart would like to pursue a career in music, possibly as a band director; however for now, he’s focusing on the present.

No matter how they finish their careers, they will be able to look back fondly on the entire experience and the successes they had.

“It’s pretty hard to say what the best part of being on the cross country team is. It really is the entire experience. It’s the relationships that you build with your teammates. It’s the bond that says you will give everything to not let down the guy next to you and you know you are getting the same out of him,” said VanDenend.

“It’s lining up and going into battle with guys that aren’t just your teammates but your best friends. It’s the looking forward to a 3:30 practice because you know its going to be the best part of your day. It’s living the life of a runner.”