Nov. 6, 2006
By: Jennifer Bissell
Living the life of a runner. It’s something Men’s Cross Country Coach Larry Wieczorek preaches. It’s living and breathing running. It’s getting up early to get a jump start on the day. It’s looking forward to practice every day. It’s being mentally and physically prepared for practice.
“Living the life of a runner is a phrase Coach Wiz has spoken about as long as I’ve been here. It’s about eating, sleeping, thinking, living running,” said VanDenend.
“It’s got a lot of vital components. It’s getting the right amount of sleep. It’s getting the right nutrition. It’s a way of life,” said Kent. “We’re different in so many ways than the other 29,000 students here.”
That difference is something Wieczorek noticed in them and hopes other cross country athletes will as well.
“They are both very smart guys. They are respected by their teammates because of their character and the type of athlete they are. They have respect for the performance they give in competitions and in training. They have a passion for the sport, and they’re just good guys,” said Wieczorek.
VanDenend was a highly touted recruit from Glen Ellyn, IL. Among his many honors, he was a state champion in cross country his senior year. Since coming to Iowa, VanDenend has lived up to expectations. He’s qualified for the NCAA tournament his first three years at Iowa. This year he’s continued to lead the team on and off the field. At the 2006 Big Ten Championship, he finished first for the Hawkeyes, third overall.
“Micah was a blue chip athlete. He had high expectations but he’s had to deal with his own obstacles and injuries. He’s grown a lot in maturity,” said Wieczorek.
Kent has had his own share of success throughout his career. The Valparaiso native has competed at the NCAA tournament two years, including a 26th place finish at last year’s regional competition. He placed 33rd at the Big Ten Tournament and led the team at the Roy Griak Invitational this year.
“Jeff came with modest credentials from high school, but through hard work he’s become a top Division I athlete, and is going for a third trip to the NCAA tournament. He was good in high school, but not great, and now he’s an instrumental part of our program,” Wieczorek said.
At the beginning of this season, Wieczorek chose VanDenend and Kent as co-captains because of their leadership skills as well as the respect they have earned from their teammates. While both feel honored to have the recognition, both feel they are just one of many leaders on the team.
“It’s nice to be recognized by the staff as a good leader and a good ambassador,” said Kent. “It’s a nice honor, but I think everyone on the team has good leadership qualities.”
“To be honest, having the title of team captain is an honor but it doesn’t mean a whole lot. It really is just a title. I don’t believe you have to be a team captain to be a team leader. We have a number of leaders on our team. Some of them lead vocally and others simply by their actions. You need both of those guys on a team if you are going to have any real kind of success,” said VanDenend.
As the only seniors on the team, both VanDenend and Kent are doing their part to make sure the team is focused before each meet. VanDenend says he’s more of a behind the scenes athlete, talking to each athlete individually and telling them what they need to hear in order to be motivated. Kent focuses more on his attitude, especially during practice.
“I try to emphasize the positive attitude. I have a smile on my face every day at practice, and I give my all every day. This is really an opportunity and a blessing to be running in the Big Ten and for the University of Iowa. I want to make sure we’re all on the same page and are mentally ready for the race,” he said.
Coach Wieczorek has also appreciated the way Kent and VanDenend have conducted themselves and have shown the younger members of the team how to compete and train at this level.
“We lost five fifth year seniors from last year’s squad so they’ve really been like extra coaches. They show them how to take care of business. They’ve really been a help to me on showing others how to compete,” he said.