A Position of Strength

May 4, 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 — Fran McCaffery is a former floor general with one eye constantly on the point guard position. Kirk Ferentz has his first-born son directing the offensive line that has been the backbone of the Hawkeye football program. Great coaches know their strengths. They nurture their strengths and exploit their strengths. Joey Woody, a two-time USTFCCCA regional coach of the year, is one of those coaches.

Woody is a former NCAA Champion and World Championship silver medalist in the 400-meter hurdles, and since arriving on campus in 2007, he has made it a priority to make the event a staple of the University of Iowa track and field program.

“It’s always going to be an event I want to be strong in,” said Woody. “It’s a great event for us, and I’m fortunate to have pretty good knowledge and experience. It helps with recruiting too. Kids know that it is my background.”

And if they don’t, they learn fast. Junior Ethan Holmes said he never seriously considered attending Iowa when Woody entered his living room in Clinton, Iowa, to sell the Hawkeyes.

“I knew who he was, but it wasn’t until he left that I began doing my research and realizing his level of success,” said Holmes.

Holmes eventually followed Woody to Iowa, and last year he placed second at the conference championships to help the Hawkeyes earn their first Big Ten team title in 44 years. But this season Holmes wants more, and he’s confident he has the training to get there.

“I’m feeling really good,” said Holmes. “I’m expecting big things. I’m trying to do a totally different rhythm this year, run a totally different race. I’m taking one less stride through every length of hurdle, similar to what coach Woody did in his day.

“The goal of all 400-hurdlers is to eventually get to that 13 stride rhythm, to do 13 strides as long as you possibly can, and emulating coach Woody’s rhythm is a step in the right direction. I’m getting close to where I want to be, and it definitely gives me hope to hopefully someday be at the same place he was, and maybe even further. You can’t put a limit on yourself so I don’t want to say his PR is my maximum limit. I may never reach it, and I may never surpass it, but he’s working to get me to that point and even further.”

Senior D’Juan Richardson placed third at the Big Ten Championships in 2011. His personal best 400-meter hurdle time ranks 10th among Iowa’s all-time top performers, and he thinks Woody’s current crop of hurdlers — Holmes, Richardson and junior Keaton Rickels — can do something special at this year’s championships.

“Woody’s the perfect coach for us,” said Richardson. “He has been there. He has run at the professional level and knows his stuff. Even just the tiny things we might miss, he’ll tell us, and it helps us out a lot. Me, Ethan and Keaton, we all love each other, and we’re all going out there to compete against each other to be the best.

“Our goal is for all of us to be top five or top three in the Big Ten, and I think that’s real possible. Every year we think we can get three people in the finals, so it is one of our stronger events, and we want to prove it to the rest of the conference.”

If the finals started today, all three Hawkeyes would be racing for the Big Ten title. Rickels set a PR at the LSU Invitational in April; his time of 51.80 currently ranks seventh in the conference. Holmes season-best (51.17) ranks third and Richardson ranks eighth (52.41).

Woody says their best is yet to come, and under the right circumstance each could compete for Iowa’s second 400-meter hurdle title in the last three years — Ray Varner won conference gold in 2010. Nebraska’s Miles Ukaoma owns the fastest time in the conference with a 50.52 mark, but all three Hawkeyes are within reach.

“Keaton’s right there among the top 10 competitors (in school history),” said Woody. “He has had a couple races where he has fallen where I think he could have been in the low 51s, maybe high 50s. So he definitely has the ability to go 50-point this year. D’Juan has really started to put things together at this point in the season, and Ethan could definitely get in the 49s this year if he pulls it all together.”

Iowa returns to the track today at the UNI Mark Messersmith Invitational. It is the final meet of the season before the Hawkeyes travel to Madison, Wis., to defend their Big Ten team title May 11-13.