24 Hawkeyes to Watch: Nicole Erickson

April 21, 2012

Worth Watching: N. Erickson

Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Thursday, July 28, highlighting one athlete from each of the 24 intercollegiate sports offered by the University of Iowa. More than 700 talented student-athletes are currently busy preparing for the 2011-12 athletics year at the UI. Hawkeyesports.com will introduce you to 24 Hawkeyes who, for one reason or another, are poised to play a prominent role in the intercollegiate athletics program at the UI in the coming year.

IOWA CITY, Iowa — Sometimes it takes time to find the right switch to flip.

University of Iowa senior Nicole Erickson watched her friend and teammate Bethany Praska transform last season from a good middle-distance runner to Big Ten champion and one of the top 400/800-meter competitors in the country.

Erickson wants to follow.

“We’re close friends,” Erickson said of her relationship with Praska. “It was like one year she flipped a switch and decided to go. This is my last year here, too, so I need to try to go after it.”

Erickson is in her final season with the Hawkeyes, and she has ambitious goals for the months of April, May and June after earning a major measure of success last season. Her deliberate progression in the sport of track has required patience.

As a high school senior at Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Kennedy in 2008, Erickson won the Iowa High School indoor state championship in the 400 dash in 58.46 seconds. That was an improvement from finishing 10th in Class 4A in the same event at the 2007 outdoor state meet. She placed fifth in the outdoor 400 at the 2008 Class 4A state championships.

Erickson envisioned the sport of track being in her future, but an initial college search didn’t include the University of Iowa. “I didn’t want to stay that close to home,” she said.

But the more recruiting visits she took, the more she gravitated toward UI head coach Layne Anderson and the Big Ten Conference campus 30 minutes from her home.

“Nowhere else seemed to fit except for here,” Erickson said. “Now that I’m here, I love Iowa, and I wouldn’t have wanted to go anywhere else.”

It took time for her to acclimate to college and life as a Division I athlete. Shin splits delayed development during her freshman and sophomore seasons. Then, in 2011, the same year Praska burst onto the scene, Erickson stretched out and reached for the same switch.

She became a Big Ten Champion, running the third leg on the 1,600-meter relay that clocked a Francis X. Cretzmeyer Track record time of 3:36.51. She followed that by being named honorable mention All-America by anchoring the 1,600 relay to 11th at the NCAA West Preliminary in Eugene, Ore., and 22nd at the NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa.

“My highlights have come within the last couple years,” Erickson said. “The biggest thing was winning the Big Ten title in the 4×4 with Tiffany (Hendricks), Bethany (Praska) and Ashley (Liverpool), especially since we’re all really close. That, and making it to nationals in the 4×4, was fun.”

Hendricks and Praska have graduated, but that hasn’t kept Erickson from reaching milestones; she has even done it individually instead of with a foursome. On Feb. 24, Erickson qualified for the finals in the 600-meter dash at the Big Ten Conference Indoor Championships with a time of 1:32.09. The next day she shaved 0.38 seconds and finished eighth.

“Scoring at the Big Ten Championships meant a lot,” Erickson said. “I’ve been working toward that for years and coach (Clive) Roberts knew I could do it. To finally (score points) by myself was fulfilling. It’s exciting to do it as a team, but it’s always rewarding to do it individually, all by yourself.”

Anderson was excited Erickson would become a Hawkeye, but he knew there was work to do before she was ready to excel against Division I competition.

“She was going to have to work extremely hard and be patient, and trust that over the course of time, she could develop into a Big Ten-level and national-level athlete,” Anderson said. “It’s rewarding to see that come to fruition for her.”

While Anderson recruited Erickson, Roberts became her day-to-day coach.

“I learned everything from coach Roberts; he’s an amazing coach and a good communicator,” Erickson said. “We always know what he expects us to do, and he kicks our butts in the fall, so we’re always ready for meets. He believes in all of us, which really helps.”

Erickson opened her final outdoor season with a heavy dose of 400s. At Arkansas, she finished fourth in the open 400 (55.70) and ran the third leg on the victorious 1,600 relay (3:38.07). A week later at LSU, Erickson cut time in the 400 (55.49), as did the relay (3:37.57). On April 14 at the Tom Botts Invitational in Columbia, Mo., she placed fourth in the 400 hurdles (1:02.53) and was a member of the 1,600 relay (3:40.16).

“I want to score individually again (at the Big Ten Championships) and try to get better than eighth,” Erickson said. “I want to be a good leader and leave here on a lasting note where people remember me not only as a good friend, but as a good teammate.”

Anderson has watched Erickson progress, and he predicts a prosperous outdoor season.

“She’s a person who is willing to come in every day and put the work in, not only in the weight room but on the track,” Anderson said. “While she has had some bumps along the way, she has also been part of some highlights. Winning the Big Ten championship in the 4×4 last year was probably a big boost for her in terms of individual confidence; scoring at the Big Ten indoors this year in the 600 for the first time in an individual event had to be a big feather in her cap, and she has carried that momentum, and is poised to do some great things for us outdoors as well.”

Erickson is majoring in sports studies and wants to become a personal trainer.

A goal for any Iowa high school track and field athlete is to end their career on the blue oval at Drake Stadium. Erickson did that in 2008, and she has a chance to conclude her collegiate career there in 2012. For the second year in a row, the finals of the NCAA Championships will be held in Des Moines; for the second year in a row, Erickson intends to be among the competitors.

“That would be awesome, especially running there in high school and returning back there at the end of my career,” Erickson said.

The Hawkeyes will hold their only home outdoor meet of the season Saturday, April 21, with the Musco Twilight XIII, beginning at 2 p.m. (CT).