Case in Paper Points: Hawkeyes are a Contender

May 12, 2010

Video interview with coach Anderson, coach Wieczorek

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Something odd happened last season to University of Iowa track and field coach Larry Wieczorek. For just the second time in 13 seasons, he left a Big Ten Conference outdoor track and field championship without seeing a Hawkeye on top of the award’s podium.

Don’t look for a repeat May 14-16 when the UI men’s and women’s teams compete at the 2010 conference championships at the Robert C. Haugh Complex in Bloomington, Ind.

“You’re trying to have an outstanding team, but you’re also trying to have outstanding individuals and ultimately winning a Big Ten title is the top of the heap,” Wieczorek said. “We have some contenders in there for sure; probably our lead guy is Ray Varner in the 400 hurdles, but we also have Jeffrey Herron ranked No. 1 in the long jump, Zeke Sayon ranked No. 1 in the 100, our 4×4 is ranked No. 1 and Matt Byers, who is No. 1 in the javelin as a freshman.”

Last season the Hawkeye men finished seventh during outdoors with 69 points and the women were 10th with 31. During the most recent indoor championships in February, the men placed fifth and the women were ninth. UI junior Steven Willey was runner-up in the 400-meter dash and ran a leg on the second-place Hawkeye 4×400 relay team.

The mark of a serious league contender is a team that can amass 100 or more points and Wieczorek said that is the case with the Hawkeyes — on paper at least.

“The Big Ten is a tough conference,” Wieczorek said. “I explain this to people: we got fifth indoors and that’s like the football team getting a bowl berth or the basketball team getting an NCAA tournament bid. Track and field is pretty strong in the Big Ten. We’d like to be in the top 5. If we’re out of the top 5, I’d feel probably we underachieved. On the other end of it, we’d like to be in the top 3. If you get in the top 3, then you’re moving toward being a real contender. Part of that process is to become a 100-point team; we scored 57 indoors — right on our paper points. We’re in that 100-range on paper, so one of our stated goals is to become a 100-point team. If we got 100 points this weekend, I’d consider that a successful Big Ten championships for us.”

A strength for the Iowa men’s program is an across-the-board talent level that gives the Hawkeyes the ability to score in any event. In the field? Iowa has it covered. Hurdles? Iowa has it covered. Middle distance and distance? Iowa has it covered. Relays? Iowa has it covered.

“One of my goals as a track and field coach has always been to have a comprehensive track and field team; have someone that could score in every event,” Wieczorek said. “We actually are there now. We have somebody that could score in every event at the Big Ten championship. We have a real good coaching staff; my assistant coaches are really good recruiters and really good coaches and they’ve developed those areas where we have people in position to score.”

During his 13-year tenure as head coach, Wieczorek has seen 35 Hawkeyes win championships at the conference outdoor meet, including 11 in 1996 when Iowa placed second. At least 20 current Hawkeye student-athletes could be headed to the NCAA West Regional two weeks after the league competition. That speaks to the power of this group, which will undoubtedly be in the mix for plenty of hardware this weekend on the Indiana University campus.

“The Big Ten is a tough conference. I explain this to people: we got fifth indoors and that’s like the football team getting a bowl berth or the basketball team getting an NCAA tournament bid. Track and field is pretty strong in the Big Ten. We’d like to be in the top 5. If we’re out of the top 5, I’d feel probably we underachieved.”

UI head coach
Larry Wieczorek

“If you coach long enough, hopefully you’ll be at the top-end challenging, but you’re also probably going to experience some of the other end of the spectrum and that’s probably not as much fun,” Wieczorek said. “Any coach will tell you that just the opportunity to go in and be in the hunt, to be in the fight, is what it’s all about. You can’t necessarily guarantee a win, but to have the people and to have the horses to go in there and be in the hunt is what’s fun for the coach and the athletes. I think we are there now.”

With one of the youngest teams in the league, UI head women’s coach Layne Anderson will focus on improvement. The Hawkeyes are led by senior sprinter Rhonda-Kaye Trusty, who a year ago placed fourth in both the 100 (11.95) and 200 (23.83) dashes. Karessa Farley was fourth in the 100 hurdles (13.56).

“Right now we talk in terms of improvement. Seems simple, but that’s where we’re focused,” Anderson said. “We have a young team; we’re taking a lot of kids that haven’t competed at the Big Ten championships, we’re taking kids who are only competing in their second; kids who are on the bubble who haven’t scored but we hope can score; our goal is to improve from our indoor placing. Our goal is to improve from our point total last year and continue to move forward.”

One of the top middle distance quartets in the nation — Hawkeye juniors Amanda and Lauren Hardesty and sophomores Betsy Flood and McKenzie Melander — will all compete in the 1,500 run.

“That 1,500 is going to be very, very competitive if all the people that initially entered compete, so it is going to take a tremendous time just to get into the finals,” Anderson said. “I’m optimistic that both Betsy and Lauren — in the right race — could run in the low 4:20s and maybe even a little bit faster if things lined up, and then Amanda and McKenzie have both improved. If we can get four girls from 4:20 to 4:24, I have to believe that will bode well for us.”

At least 10 Iowa women should join the 20 or so Hawkeye men and receive an invitation to the NCAA West Region Preliminary Round on May 27-29 in Austin, Texas. Anderson wants to use the Big Ten meet as a platform to either qualify more Hawkeyes or solidify their current status within the region.

“We feel pretty good about 10 of our student-athletes right now,” Anderson said. “We’re sitting good in terms of the 4×4 and Caleigh Bacchus (in the high jump) and three girls in the 1,500 as well…Rhonda in the 100 and 200, possibly Raven (Moore in the 200) and then Tiffany Medenwaldt and Majesty Tutson in the throwing events. We feel pretty good about that group — it’s a good-sized group, but we could certainly add a few more to that group or we would certainly feel better about solidifying their position and not having to rely on some scratches.”

The 2010 Big Ten championships begin Friday at noon. For a link to the meet schedule, click HERE.