24 Hawkeyes to Watch: Bethany Praska

Feb. 13, 2011

Worth Watching: B. Praska

Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Friday, Aug. 13, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2010-11 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Bethany Praska was a freshman at the University of Iowa when Kineke Alexander set the school record in the 600-meter run. She wasn’t born when Jeanne Kruckenberg ran the fastest indoor 800 in Hawkeye history.

The 600 record was set in 2008, the 800 nearly two decades later in 1989. Praska would like to see both dates replaced with the year 2011, and both record-holder names replaced with hers.

“My goal (in the 600) is the school record (1:27.45) and hopefully that will come hand-in-hand with a Big Ten title,” Praska said. “I got to witness (Alexander) absolutely dominating that 600. The school record in the 800 is (2:06.38) — which is automatic qualifying for nationals. If I can take both out with one swipe, that would be great. That record is back from the 80s — it’s old and waiting to be broken.”

Praska set the Hawkeye record in the 800 on Saturday, Feb. 12, when she won the seeded event at the Iowa State Classic in 2:06.20.

Alexander — an Olympian and an eight-time All-American — is the lone Hawkeye to run a faster 600 than Praska. Only Kruckenberg and Michelle Lahan (2:06.83) have better 800 marks. So far this season, Praska has run 1:29.60 in the 600 and 2:08.63 in the 800. Her career bests are 1:29.35 and 2:08.54, respectively.

Setting records is nothing new to the senior from Longmont, Colo. During a busy weekend at the Razorback Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark., at the end of January, Praska ran the second leg of the school-record 1,600-meter relay. The team of senior Tiffany Hendricks, junior Nicole Erickson, Praska and freshman Ashley Liverpool ran 3:39.15 — more than a second faster than the old school mark established in 2006. Praska also ran the 800 in the distance medley relay that finished runner-up in 11:24.47 — 4.36 seconds from another UI best.

“You always walk by the record board and check out whose name is next to what year,” Praska said. “You have those times engrained in your brain and the fact that we were able to do that so early in the season is a highlight.”

Praska started in track because she didn’t enjoy the “push-and-shove” nature of soccer. She was also an outside hitter on the Longmont Christian High School team, but running became her passion. Praska was a three-time state track champion and two-time runner-up, clocking personal bests of 12.9 in the 100, 25.13 in the 200, 55.7 in the 400 and 2:21 in the 800. She was a three-time Colorado Junior Olympics champion.

“You could see that she was willing to work hard and she had great foot speed,” UI head women’s track and field coach Layne Anderson said. “We thought if we could put the work in, that potentially the mid-distances would become her marquee events.”

Anderson was the lead recruiter of Praska when he was an assistant for then head coach James Grant. Praska said her relationship with Anderson and a welcome recruiting gathering equated to an easy decision to attend the UI.

“There was a team barbeque at coach Grant’s house and I met Kineke and Shellene (Williams),” Praska said. “A lot of the distance girls and the jumpers came, and the fact that all the different areas of track and field were hanging out and interested in each other and interested in me and what I was there for.”

After her recruiting trip to Iowa City, Praska visited in-state Colorado State, but her experience at the UI was too moving to pass up.

Former UI assistant coach Victor Houston trained Praska for one season; now, for the third straight year, she works daily with assistant Clive Roberts. That stability in the coaching situation is paying off. A look at Praska’s 600 results at the past three conference indoor meets is proof. As a freshman in 2008, she ran a season-best 1:34.66 in the preliminary; as a sophomore she placed sixth with a time of 1:31.80; last season she was fourth in 1:29.35.

“We just got upset at getting third, fourth or fifth in the Big Ten,” Roberts said. “She came in this year and really started putting the time into training. We tell our runners that you are either working out or training. Working out is what you see everyday folks do, but when you have a mission, then you’re training and it started in the summer. She came back extremely fit and she is motivated to be the best in the conference and at this point it’s paying huge dividends.”

Last season Praska was an NCAA provisional qualifier in the 800 indoors and competed in the preliminary round of the outdoor NCAA Championships of the 1,600 relay in Austin, Texas.

“Experience plays a part in that, but for the most part we upped the ante on fall conditioning this year,” Praska said. “In the past our 800 runners might have trained as 400 runners trying to run the 800. This year we threw it all to the wind and said, `We are 800 runners’ and I’ve tried to dedicate myself to thinking of myself as an 800 runner.”

Praska practiced in the offseason with her brother, Aaron, a first-year hurdler at the University of Wyoming, and a friend from home who also competes in college. That foundation of training has allowed her to tackle more strenuous workouts. The fall base is also expected to keep Praska strong and healthy as the indoor season merges with outdoor.

“This year we’re trying to keep the volume up so that by the time outdoor season comes, I’m not falling flat, but that we’re still trying to reach peak performance,” Praska said.

Praska is majoring in Spanish in the education program and she will have a fifth year of academics remaining before graduation. She would like to become a high school Spanish teacher and possibly teach English as a second language.

Before she becomes and educator, Praska craves the role of record-breaker.

“I’m not going to put a number on her for this year because she has no limits,” Roberts said. “The best of Bethany Praska is yet to come.”