`Interchangeable Parts'

Oct. 15, 2009

Editor’s Note: The following article first appeared in the Oct. 7 edition of the Official Sports Report (OSR) for the University of Iowa. OSR is a daily e-newsletter exclusively about the Iowa Hawkeyes. Click HERE to learn more.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — It will be hard to keep the University of Iowa men’s cross country team one of the nation’s best-kept secrets anymore.

The Hawkeyes, led by fabulous freshman Jeff Thode, are off to an impressive start to the 2009 season. After winning its first two meets, Iowa finished fifth out of 13 teams at the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational on Oct. 3 in Madison.

The Hawkeyes return to the course at the NCAA Pre-National Invitational on Oct. 17 in Terre Haute, Ind. The Iowa men will compete in the “Blue Race” at 11 a.m. against Air Force, Alabama, Arizona, Auburn, Brown, Butler, Cal-Berkeley, Cal-Poly, Florida, Georgia, Georgia Tech, Harvard, Illinois State, Indiana State, IUPUI, Kansas, Loyola (Md.), Marquette, Miami (Ohio), Michigan State, Montana, Montana State, North Carolina State, Northern Arizona, Oregon, Toledo, Tulsa, North Carolina-Charlotte, Utah State, Texas-El Paso, Washington, Washington State, Western Kentucky and William & Mary.

The Hawkeyes accomplished the impressive feat at Wisconsin thanks to a runner-up individual finish by Thode and a 14th-place performance by returning NCAA qualifier Jess Luciano.

Making the achievement more impressive is that three Iowa regulars — senior Brendan Camplin, junior Sam Bailin and sophomore Nick Holmes — did not compete.

“The team ran well,” UI men’s head coach Larry Wieczorek said. “The team we entered is a good team that can get better. Our football team talks about `Next Man In.’ We talk about being an interchangeable part. Everyone’s a No. 1 runner and everyone’s a No. 5 runner.”

At Wisconsin, Thode and Luciano were followed in the Hawkeye lineup by junior Mark Battista (53rd), senior Tommy Tate (64th), sophomore James Paul (75th), sophomore Chase Kadlec (77th) and senior Jay Renaud (96th). Junior Brian Marchese (110th) and sophomore Mike Marbach (120th) also competed.

It has been quite a start for Thode. He won championships at the Iowa Invitational on Sept. 4 in Iowa City and at the Iowa Intercollegiate meet on Sept. 19 in Ames. He was second out of 126 finishers at

Wisconsin with an 8-kilometer time of 23-minutes, 54.8-seconds. The only person to finish ahead of Thode was Georgetown senior Andrew Bumbalough, who was clocked 0.8-seconds faster.

“My strategy was to get out fast in the beginning and hold it at the end,” Thode said. “My game plan is that simple.”

After three meets, Thode has etched his name among some national running heavyweights. Bumbalough was 13th at the 2008 NCAA championships and Thode defeated at least eight other defending NCAA qualifiers, including Landon Peacock of Wisconsin, Luciano and Dan Busby of Syracuse.

Not a bad beginning for someone who hoped to simply keep pace with the rest of the Hawkeyes when he arrived on campus.

“My only individual goal at first was to stick with the other runners on the team,” Thode said. “As for team goals, we want to get back to nationals. If that’s going to happen, we’ll need a runner close to the lead pack.”

In the early going, that runner has been Thode, who attended James B. Conant High School in Schaumburg, Ill.

In its third race of the season, Iowa finished in front of Big Ten Conference foes Illinois (sixth) and Michigan (ninth) as well as Texas A&M (seventh), the defending NCAA men’s outdoor track and field champion.

“We had some big wins over some major programs,” Wieczorek said. “The group performed well.”

“Our goal is to have five runners under 25 minutes,” Wieczorek said. “Then we can start thinking of ourselves as a good, competitive, top-tier team.”