May 26, 2010
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — Two are from the state of Indiana, one is from Minnesota and the other is a home-grown Iowan. Collectively, they are materializing into one of the most formidable middle-distance foursomes at the NCAA Division I level.
When the 48 declared competitors for the women’s 1,500-meter run step to the line on the Mike A. Myers Track at 5 p.m. (Iowa time) on Thursday in Austin, Texas, four of the runners will represent the University of Iowa: juniors Amanda and Lauren Hardesty and sophomores Betsy Flood and McKenzie Melander.
Iowa and Big Ten Conference rival Minnesota are the only NCAA Division I programs with four athletes in the 1,500 at the West Region Preliminary; Oregon and Washington have three apiece.
“It speaks to the strength of our program to be able to qualify four student-athletes on to the first round of a national championship,” UI head coach Layne Anderson said. “That speaks to the depth of our program and what we’re doing at the University of Iowa. All four are ready to go and we’ll see if we can take the next step and advance them all to Eugene.”
The top 24 in each event advance to the NCAA Championship finals June 9-12 in Eugene, Ore.
Dominating a particular track event is nothing new to the Hawkeyes. At the 2008 NCAA national championships in Des Moines, the UI boasted three runners and two All-Americans in the 10,000-meter run — seniors Meghan Armstrong (sixth), Racheal Marchand (eighth) and Diane Nukuri.
“Now we’re on the opposite side of the spectrum in mid-distance, so we’re excited,” Anderson said.
Flood (Des Moines, Iowa) and Melander (Apple Valley, Minn.) have experience in regional competition; last season in Norman, Okla., Flood advanced to the national championships by placing fourth in the region with a time of 4-minutes, 25.98-seconds. Melander was seventh in 4:30.41. At the NCAA Championships, Flood finished eighth in her heat in 4:24.11.
“It was a really good experience going last year,” Flood said. “I’m glad that I got to go and it’s helped motivate me to want to go back. The big goal is to make nationals, but if that doesn’t happen, then that’s OK, too. I just want to run the best that I can run and be happy with that.”
Flood placed third at the Big Ten Conference Championships on May 16 in Bloomington, Ind., racing to a personal-best time of 4:17.75. That time is seventh-best of the West Regional qualifiers. Melander was sixth at the conference meet in 4:21.18 — the 14th-fastest seed time in Austin’s regional.
“My ultimate goal would be to make it to Oregon, other than that, just seeing if I can keep decreasing my time,” Melander said. “I want to get in a big race and go for it. Everyone’s there for the same, ultimate goal, so I know people are going to go out and run their fastest times.”
The Hardesty twins are juniors from Valparaiso, Ind. Lauren ran a career-best 4:22.81 for eighth place in the finals of the Big Ten meet nearly two weeks ago. She owns the 20th-fastest time among the 48 regional runners.
“It’s a confidence-booster for me because I know that I’m running with all my teammates and friends and it helps me feel more at ease and more confident going into the race,” Lauren Hardesty said. “We might not all be in the same heat, but I know we’re all going to be running that race, so it helps me be more calm going in. It’s nice having all four of us experiencing this together.”
Amanda Hardesty is ranked 37th in the West Region with a time of 4:25.60. She was 13th at the Big Ten Championships (the top 12 move on to the finals) and was the only one of the four Hawkeyes not to reach a PR in the conference 1,500; Amanda was fourth in her heat in 4:27.52.
“It’s really exciting; I’m thankful I got in,” Amanda Hardesty said. “I want to go out there and run as fast as I can and make my mark — show myself that I can compete with everyone else out there. I definitely want to PR because I didn’t at Big Tens — that’s a goal to go out and run my best and give it everything I have.”
Amanda bounced back to finish seventh in the Big Ten 5,000 run in 16:37.01. Flood was sixth (16:34.26) and Melander was 17th (17:10.10).
The top five placewinners in each of the four regional heats and then the next four overall times will run in a two-heat 1,500 quarterfinal Saturday, May 29, at 6:45 p.m. The top five finishers and the next two best times will qualify for the semifinal round in Eugene.
“I think it’s realistic (for all four to move on to the NCAA Championship Final Round),” Anderson said. “Nobody’s coming in with an injury, nobody’s coming in with questionable training. I like where we sit and all four have proven they can run well on the big stage and this is certainly going to be that big stage.”
Katie Follett of Washington has the fastest seed time in the West Region 1,500 at 4:10.66, followed by Oregon’s Zoe Buckman in 4:12.80.
The same UI quartet of Flood, Melander, Amanda Hardesty and Lauren Hardesty ran the second-fastest women’s 4×1,600 relay in the history of the Drake Relays on April 24. At the regional preliminary they will be chasing the same prize — as individuals, not relay allies.
“Sometimes it’s hard for us to compete against each other just because we’re all such good friends and you want your teammates to do really well,” Flood said. “It stinks when you’re all fighting for these spots and there are only 12 of them (for the NCAA Final Round), but hopefully all four of us will get in.”
Anderson credits the personalities of the teammates for helping them all succeed in the same event.
“Everyone puts their ego aside in practice and they work to the betterment of one another,” Anderson said. “They’re genuinely excited to see each other do well. They have their own individual goals and they’re motivated to do well themselves, but what makes it really work is that it’s a great partnership.”
The group agrees that competition makes them stronger, rather than divisive.
“It’s a bittersweet thing that we’re all competing for the same spots, but I feel like it helps us,” Amanda Hardesty said.
“It’s been awesome having other people to run with,” Melander said. “We’re all similar; we see each other every day. We’re friends and it helps to motivate everyone else that you’re running with.”
“It gives us an edge over other teams that are going with maybe only one girl in the 1,500,” Lauren Hardesty said. “I’m glad we can experience this together.”