NCAA Championships Start Today

May 26, 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 — University of Iowa track and field coach Larry Wieczorek said you have to ask a lot out of your good athletes if you want to be a good team. Fortunately for the Big Ten Coach of the Year, a lot of good athletes made the trip to Eugene, Ore., for the first round of the NCAA Outdoor Championships.

Eleven days after winning the program’s first Big Ten team title since 1967, the Hawkeye men open NCAA competition today with a school record-tying 20 competitors, including six athletes who have qualified in multiple events. Wieczorek said those six will be instrumental if the Hawkeyes are to improve on their eighth place finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships.

“We need everyone to contribute, just as they did last weekend (at the Big Ten Championships),” said Wieczorek. “There’s a reason we have athletes compete in multiple events, and that’s because there is a team championship on the line. Like at the Big Ten meet, you’re going to see your good athletes doing as much as they can do with the intent of scoring points.”

The six Hawkeye men working overtime this weekend include Justin Austin, Chris Barton, Jeffery Herron, Ethan Holmes, Erik Sowinski and Steven Willey. Herron will compete in both the high jump and long jump, while others double dip between their individual running events and relay teams.

Holmes and Austin had been scheduled to compete in three events each, but Austin — the Big Ten’s reigning track athlete of the year — will likely abstain from the 400-meter relay to focus on the open 100 and 200-meters. That leaves Holmes as the lone Hawkeye working into the third shift.

“It’s certainly not unusual to see your top sprinters in the relay events,” said Wieczorek. “It’s actually pretty common, but sometimes you have to rest a guy like Austin in the relays because you don’t want to take something away from his individual events. Ethan Holmes, however, there is a healthy guy that has a real challenge running the 110 and 400-hurdles and then coming back for the 4×4. He’s really got his work cut out for him.”

Willey is one Hawkeye who has previously benefited from running multiple events. As a junior in 2010, he earned All-America honors in both the 400 meters and 1,600-meter relay.

“That’s not a credit to a coach penciling an athlete into two events,” said Wieczorek. “That’s a credit to Steven Willey and Coach (Joey) Woody for developing him as a recruited walk-on and becoming a two-time All-American.”

Another Hawkeye benefiting from multiple events and contributing points towards the team goal is senior Bethany Praska. From all the hoopla surrounding the men’s conference championship, Praska was the only Hawkeye to surface from the Big Ten meet with a pair of titles. She contributed to 20 of the women’s 59 team points with victories in the open 800 and 1,600-meter relay.

“More impressive than her two titles was just how easy she looked running the 800,” said head coach Layne Anderson. “She looked to be in complete control. She looked like a person who is going to run a lot faster in the weeks ahead if the weather permits and the competition goes out and really runs.”

A pair of Praska’s relay mates, Tiffany Hendricks and Ashley Liverpool, will also toe the starting line in a pair of NCAA events. Hendricks in the 400 hurdles and Liverpool in the open 400.

“It’s something they’ve been used to all season,” said Anderson. “They’re prepared for multiple events on the same day or back-to-back days. The way the Championship schedule is set up they will have a little something to do each day, which certainly isn’t a bad thing.”

Competition at the NCAA West Regional will run today through Saturday at Hayward Field on the campus of Oregon University. Twelve competitors from each individual event and a minimum of eight teams from each relay event will advance from the West Regional to the NCAA Championship’s final rounds in Des Moines, Iowa, June 8-11.