4x4 Chases NCAA Title Saturday

March 12, 2011

Editor’s Note: The following first appeared in the University of Iowa’s Hawk Talk Daily, an e-newsletter that offers a daily look at the Iowa Hawkeyes, delivered free each morning to thousands of fans of the Hawkeyes worldwide.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — In a season painted with new records and new faces, one variable has remained constant for the Iowa track program — and even that has benefited from a fresh coat.

The men’s 1,600-meter relay — the reigning Big Ten Champions and 2010 NCAA Outdoor All-America squad — has qualified for the 2011 NCAA Indoor Championships and is once again poised to make a run at the NCAA title.

Patrick Richards, Erik Sowinski and Steven Willey teamed with Chris Barton to finish seventh at last year’s NCAA Outdoor Championships. The quartet returned this winter eying a Big Ten title and a trip to the Indoor Championships, but a back injury sidelined Barton in late January and the Hawkeye filled the missing piece with sophomore Ethan Holmes.

“Ethan coming in was kind of a wild card,” said position coach Joey Woody, who earlier this week was named the USTFCCCA Midwest Region Coach of the Year. “But he has really stepped up and proven himself throughout the season. Every time I have asked him to do something big he has stepped up and preformed.

“We put him in there (at Arkansas), defeated Baylor and won the meet. He stepped up at the Big Ten Championships, and he really stepped up big this last weekend and added a second PR to his previous best split. We are excited on how he has come around.”

Holmes had made a name for himself in Iowa’s hurdle events prior to joining the relay team. He redshirted during his freshman indoor season a year ago and had to fight for the opportunity to join Iowa’s school record setting relay.

“It’s pretty exciting inside our program right now,” said Woody. “We have three or four guys that are interchangeable into that 4×4 unit. I always want five or six guys competing for those four spots.

“I feel if you are (building internal competition), you will have a tremendous relay. You are going to have a great shot getting to the national championships, becoming All-Americans and possibly coming out with the NCAA title.”

Despite the interchangeable parts, the chemistry remains strong, according to Sowinski, who will run the open 800 and the third leg of the 4×4 relay this weekend.

“The change doesn’t affect us at all,” said Sowinski. “Chris and Ethan are both extremely talented 400 runners. Ethan has stepped up and been really big this season.”

Sowinski added the Hawkeyes’ expectations haven’t wavered.

“We want to run to win. We are about a second off the leaders, but at the Last Chance (meet) we found a couple areas of our race we can approve upon that could make the difference.”

Iowa hasn’t crowned a national champion since Bashir Yamini won the long jump in 1998. Woody said that could change Saturday.

“The competition is wide open. I tell the guys we always compete to beat the best. I always feel with the 4×4 anything can happen. We are running times that are comparable to what other teams are running in the middle of the season. We are starting to peak at the right time. We just need to get out and compete like it’s the last race of the year and hopefully we come out on top.”

Visit the track and field schedule page at hawkeyesports.com for updated NCAA results.