Long Track to the NCAA Championships

March 9, 2012

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 — Nampa, Idaho, may be 1,500 miles away, but it’s a lot closer today than it was four years ago.

Senior Erik Sowinski had visions of a D-III collegiate career when he was preparing for his high school conference meet in 2008. Today, four years after winning a pair of conference prep titles, Sowinski continues his chase for a D-I national title at the NCAA Track and Field Indoor Championships on the campus of Boise State.

Sowinski and teammate Troy Doris were among the at-large qualifiers selected to compete at the championships today and tomorrow — Sowinski in the 800 meters and Doris in the triple jump. Both student-athletes earned All-America honors in the event in 2011, and Sowinski says a repeat performance could place the Hawkeyes’ two-man team among the top teams in the country.

“Troy and I are pretty close,” said Sowinski, who placed fourth at the 2011 NCAA Indoor Championships. “We’re the team captains, and we share similar goals for the team and individually. At the beginning of the year we were hoping to be one of the top five teams in the country. Obviously that didn’t happen, but it’s still exciting for us to be out here together.

“We figure if we’re both top three finishers there’s no reason we can’t be a top 10 or 15 team. We talked about that and that’s our goal between the two us.”

That’s right. The same kid who once thought he’d be competing against the likes of Southern Maine, Wisconsin-Stevens Point and Amherst, now has the Iowa Hawkeyes strapped on his back as he toes the starting block against Texas A&M, Florida, Arizona State and a handful of Big Ten opponents.

“He’s got all the tools that you need to be successful in the event,” said assistant coach Joey Woody. “He’s got a great work ethic, loves to challenge himself on a daily basis and he’s not afraid of the endurance type of training.”

Sowinski began implementing more endurance training into his program last summer when he told Woody, a former world record holder in the 3,200-meter relay, that he wanted to run the 800 in 1:45. Woody tapped into the mind of renowned track and field coach Frank Gagliano, who suggested more volume training. As a result, Sowinski broke his previous school record en route to the Big Ten 800-meter title.

“He’s come a long way,” said Woody. “He qualified and placed at the Big Ten Championships in both the 600 and 800 early in his career. He was (800 meters) runner-up at last year’s conference meet, which showed great things, and for him to win the Big Ten Championships this year was phenomenal.”

What’s even more impressive about his conference title is the amount of talent represented by the Big Ten at the national meet. Six of the 12 fastest 800-meter times in the country belong to Big Ten athletes. Five of those athletes are on the block this weekend, and those familiar faces are there to remind Sowinski to take a familiar approach.

“I wouldn’t say I’m trying to set any records by any means,” said Sowinski. “Prelims are always the hardest part, because once you get past prelims anything can happen in the finals. I’ll hopefully make it to the finals and put myself in a position to win that race.”

The 800 meter prelims begin tonight at 8 p.m. (CT). The top three runners from each heat and the next two fastest times advance to the finals on Saturday at 8:35 p.m. Doris, a three-time Big Ten champion in the triple jump, begins his chase for a third All-America honor Saturday at 5:30 p.m.

The NCAA Championships are held at the Jackson Indoor Track in Nampa, Idaho. Live results are available at hawkeyesports.com. Live streaming of the meet will be available on ESPN3 beginning at 6:30 p.m. (CT) on Friday and at 7 p.m. (CT) on Saturday. Both days will air through the end of the meet.

A tape-delayed broadcast of the meet will be shown on ESPNU, Sunday, March 18 at 6:30 p.m. (CT), with re-runs scheduled for Monday, March 19 at 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.