VanDenend opens final track season with success

Feb. 19, 2008

by Derek Sawvell

IOWA CITY, Iowa — For most runners, winning races and setting school records are wishes that remain unfulfilled. For the University of Iowa’s Micah VanDenend, winning and setting records are very real occurrences.

VanDenend has found success as a member of both the cross country and track teams at Iowa, and while his cross country career is over, he has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA to compete in the 2008 track seasons.

During his first competition of the season on Saturday, Feb. 16, VanDenend provisionally qualified for the NCAA Championships with a 5,000-meter time of 14-minutes, 7.06-seconds at the Husky Classic in Seattle, Wash.

VanDenend’s illustrious career began at Glenbard South High School in Glen Ellyn, Ill., where he won several races and honors throughout his running career. As a cross country runner, he was a two-time winner of the Suburban Prairie Red Conference individual crown and won every race he competed in during his senior year, including the individual Class AA state championship. The Raiders also won the AA state title in 2001 — the first ever for Glenbard South in any sport. As a track athlete, VanDenend competed at the state meet every year, competing in the 1,600-meter race twice and the 3,200 three times, culminating with a state championship in the 3,200 as a senior.

VanDenend took an unofficial visit to Iowa during his junior year of high school, but waited until May of his senior year to commit to being a Hawkeye.

“I waited ridiculously long,” VanDenend said. “During track, your next race might be your breakout race which can increase your offer.”

VanDenend did enjoy his visit to Iowa and he did ultimately choose to become a Hawkeye based on several reasons. His coaches at Glenbard South “spoke well of the Hawkeyes” and he also liked Iowa’s location.

“There are so many opportunities here,” said VanDenend. “This is a diverse part of the state where you get to see all kinds of culture.”

VanDenend also enjoys the support he receives as an athlete at the UI.

“If you’re an Iowa athlete, you’re like a pro athlete here,” said VanDenend. “So many people support the Hawkeyes. When we run races in Illinois, it feels like home. Because we don’t have pro sports here, everyone loves a winner even more.”

VanDenend is certainly a winner and he has left his mark in the Iowa record books. Before his arrival, Iowa’s cross country team had only qualified for the NCAA Championships once. During the VanDenend Era, the Hawkeyes have made it to four NCAA Championships in five years. Ironically, the one year the team didn’t qualify was during VanDenend’s redshirt season. Last year, he was named the NCAA Midwest Runner of the Year and won the regional championship race at Minnesota before competing at the NCAA meet where he and the team didn’t perform as well as they had wanted.

“If you’re an Iowa athlete, you’re like a pro athlete here. So many people support the Hawkeyes. When we run races in Illinois, it feels like home. Because we don’t have pro sports here, everyone loves a winner even more.”

“We had a tough outing on both ends,” said VanDenend. “Ten days earlier I was regional champ and now I’m holding my head down, but competing in four cross country championships was one of the greatest experiences of my life.”

VanDenend has also participated in both the indoor and outdoor track seasons throughout the past two years, setting numerous school records. He broke the school record in the 3,000 at Notre Dame, his first time ever running that event. During the outdoor season, VanDenend broke the school record in the 5,000 in a meet at Stanford (13-minutes, 55.96-seconds). This was also the first time he had competed in that event and the previous record holder was his coach, Larry Wieczorek, who set the record in 1968.

“It’s fun to coach the athlete that breaks your record,” Wieczorek said. “It stayed too long and he has a lot of talent. He’s got all the tools of a distance runner — stamina, speed and heart.”

Last year, VanDenend broke the school record for the indoor 5,000 (13:56.46). He ran the mile once during the outdoor season and ran 4:07.54 — the seventh-fastest time in school history. He also reset his own record at Stanford in the 5,000 (13:49.31). The regular season ended with VanDenend running the 10,000 for the first time in his career at the Big Ten Championships. He won that race and made it into the fraternity of Big Ten champions (30:28.50).

“It was the highlight of my career,” VanDenend said.

Wieczorek also belongs to the fraternity of Big Ten champions and acknowledges it as being a career accomplishment.

“The Big Ten is more than just a number,” said coach Wieczorek. “It represents history. If you tell someone you’re a Big Ten champ, they know what it means.”

The uniqueness surrounding VanDenend’s bright career at Iowa isn’t just the records, but the fact that many of them have been set in races he ran for the first time.

“The unusual part is not putting him in the races, but the success he has the first time,” Wieczorek said. “When he started breaking those records, it was his first year in track. He has a great gift for running. He is one of the best in the nation. He didn’t compete in a track meet for three straight years due to injuries. That’s unheard of. This will only be his third year of track and field”

Due to missing the three years of track competition, VanDenend now has his sixth and final year of eligibility which he is looking forward to.

“I have lofty goals and want to take care of business this track season,” he said. “I won’t be satisfied if I don’t reach them.”

“This year there’s a goal to break the school record in the indoor mile run and the outdoor 1,500,” Wieczorek said.

A sixth year will also obviously give VanDenend more time to run for Wieczorek.

“You’re not going to find a better person or coach anywhere you go,” VanDenend said.

“If you have outstanding achievements in athletics you’ll be a star here at Iowa,” Wieczorek said. “But what I treasure most is the relationship and friendship with the athlete. They’re kind of like the blessings in my life. It’s a neat way to spend your life, being a part of something important in their lives.”

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