Total Package Continues to Deliver

April 11, 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 — University of Iowa senior McKenzie Melander is getting used to toting around academic awards and school records. She’s too humble to make a parade out of them, but they’re there, and they seem to follow her everywhere.

Melander brought a handful of academic honors and school records with her when she arrived on campus in 2008 from Apple Valley, Minn. She’ll turn around and head back to her home state to begin graduate school this fall, and when she does, she’ll be dragging another trail of honors across the state line.

A speech and hearing science major, Melander is a five-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree. She earned academic All-America honors in 2011, and has been on four USTFCCCA All-Academic teams.

Oh, and she’s also really fast.

“She’s the total package,” said University of Iowa head track and field coach Layne Anderson. “She’s just an awesome person. She’ll never tell you that, but she’s a great teammate, a tremendous student and a very good athlete with a great work ethic.”

The Iowa record books are evidence of Melander’s athletic ability. She’s the school record holder in the indoor mile and a member of the school record 6,400-meter relay team. Her latest performance, a 15:57.13 effort in the 5,000 meters, trimmed 31 seconds off her previous personal best and catapulted her from No. 9 to No. 2 in program history. Only former Hawkeye NCAA champion Nan Doak has a better time.

“That was a good day but still a little surprising,” said Melander. “I was excited to run. Megan (Ranegar) ran well early and that got me excited. As I was running I was gaining momentum and feeling better and was able to have a good finish.”

The personal-best performance was especially encouraging considering it was Melander’s first outdoor race of the season.

“I felt like she was going to run well, but I’d be lying if I said I knew she was going to run that well,” said Anderson. “She just ran a brilliant race, just kind of hung back, let the pace sort of unfold and then came forward kind of late, actually took off with about 600 meters to go and was running for the win. She looked incredible and ran really fast over the last quarter.”

Melander is hopeful the performance parlays into a successful home stretch during her final season. She’ll take this week off before returning to action at the Musco Twilight meet on April 21, which also serves as Iowa’s Senior Day. She’ll then look to take care of unfinished business at the Drake Relays before beginning prep for the conference and national championships.

“Musco is something to look forward to because it’s fun and you can sleep in your own bed,” said Melander. “But I really like Drake because there is so much energy, and it’s such a neat stadium. We also rarely get a chance to do relays, so the 4×16 is always really fun.”

The 6,400-meter relay team will look for its first Drake Relays flag — the white flag awarded to each event champion — on the blue oval April 26-28. The Hawkeyes have finished second in each of the last two seasons, despite breaking the school record in 2010.

“We’ve been second the last two years,” said Melander, “And every year we say we’re going to get it. We’ve all said we want a flag… this has to be the year.”

After the Drake Relays, the Hawkeyes have two weeks to prepare for the Big Ten Championships in Madison, Wis. Her coach believes a repeat performance from last weekend could be fast enough for Melander to become the fourth 5K Big Ten champion in school history — joining Nan Doak (1982), Tracy Dahl (1992) and Diane Nukuri (2008).

That feat is something Melander never considered four years ago.

“When I got on campus I thought about becoming a point scorer first, and then when you begin to run you make adjustments accordingly. I never thought coming to Iowa that I would have the record in the indoor mile, but then expectations changed.

“Now that we’re in the spring season it’s kind of hitting me that, ‘wow this is it.’ I’m just looking forward to doing well outdoors and end with the biggest bang I can.”

A big bang would add to a growing list of honors Melander will take home with her this fall, but unlike her first travel wagon, hopefully this one will have a little white flag on top.