Embracing the Challenge

April 29, 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 — It didn’t take long for Matt Byers to remind people he was the defending Big Ten javelin champion. In his first throw of the 2011 season — yes, his first throw — he broke a nine-year old school and conference record with a toss of 245 feet, eight inches.

He’s had a few throws since then, but today he may have to challenge his own record if he’s going to win a title at the 102nd Drake Relays. Five of the nation’s top six javelin competitors, including Byers, who ranks No. 6, line up at 10:45 a.m. at Drake Stadium to pursue the coveted Drake Relays flag.

“I think he’s got a chance to win,” said Iowa throws coach Scott Cappos. “It’s going to be really competitive. We’re looking for an even bigger performance than what he opened with this year.”

The field includes top ranked Ignacio Guerra from Western Kentucky. Guerra competed for Chile in the 2008 Beijing Olympics and his throw of 258 feet, 2 inches currently leads the nation.

Byers say he’s embracing this week’s challenge and looking forward to competing against the top collegiate athletes in the country.

“It will be fun to go out and compete against guys like that,” said Byers. “I know it’s going to be a tough competition, but I told coach I don’t see a reason why I can’t win it. I feel like if my technique is right, I can compete with the best of them.”

Byers first considered throwing the javelin his freshman year of high school when his father, a high school football coach, convinced him it would help build arm strength. He picked up the technique almost immediately, something Cappos says you either get or you don’t, and continued to improve his distance.

“As much as I would run and work out with the sprinters on the high school track team, I just kept peaking with the javelin and throwing it farther and farther,” said Byers. “It really kind of hit me fast. Before you knew it, I was a javelin thrower getting a letter from Coach Cappos.”

Brian Byers, Matt’s father, is a native of Waterloo, Iowa. Cappos credits those Iowa connections, coupled with Iowa’s javelin tradition and the University’s proximity to Byers hometown of Wichita, Kan., as reasons the sophomore is breaking conference records in the Big Ten, and not the Pac-10, SEC or Big XII.

“He was recruited all over the country,” said Cappos. “He had other opportunities. But his father’s connections, Iowa City’s proximity, our history with throwers, that’s why he’s here.”

Byers advanced to the NCAA Championships a year ago in Eugene, Ore. This season, the NCAA champion will be crowned at Drake Stadium. Cappos says that’s the ultimate goal, and Byers believes this weekend could be a telling barometer.

“I look at the Drake Relays as kind of a tune up for nationals,” said Byers, “Considering nearly all the top throwers will be here. My dad has always told me to embrace the challenge. The challenge this week is to win the Drake Relays.”

After today’s competition, Byers will put his sights on defending his Big Ten title May 13-15 in Iowa City. He’ll then begin his pursuit of a national championship May 26-28 with opening round competition in Eugene, Ore. The NCAA finals are June 8-11 at Drake Stadium.

The Hawkeyes opened competition at the Drake Relays on Thursday… click HERE for the recap and to watch highlights from the opening day.

The Iowa baseball team travels north to Minneapolis this weekend to face Minnesota at Target Field… click HERE for the preview.