May 9, 2012
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IOWA CITY, Iowa — When Larry Wieczorek calls his University of Iowa men’s track and field team an `underdog contender,’ good things are about to happen.
Last year at this time, Wieczorek, director of track and field at the UI, said the Hawkeyes were underdog contenders heading into the Big Ten Conference Championships in Iowa City. On paper, Iowa was seeded fourth and expected to score 100 points. The end result was the school’s first conference track and field title in 44 years, as the Hawkeyes scored 125 ½ points; Minnesota was second with 123.
2012 and 2011 have a lot in common.
“We’re ranked fourth on paper with 99 points,” Wieczorek said. “In both situations, I describe us as an underdog contender — a contender, though. There are going to be five or six teams in the hunt.”
Other notables on the men’s side are Indiana, Nebraska, Minnesota, and host Wisconsin, which would like nothing more than to duplicate the home-cooking the Hawkeyes enjoyed last May. According to the May 7 rankings by USTFCCCA, Indiana is rated No. 7, followed by Wisconsin (No. 15), Nebraska (No. 17), Iowa (No. 21) and Minnesota (No. 25).
“There is a lot of parity in the Big Ten right now. Every team in the Big Ten is a good track and field team,” Wieczorek said. “If you were to put them in another setting, they could probably dominate that particular setting. A few key people out for a team, and it could drop like a lead balloon.”
“There is a lot of parity in the Big Ten right now. Every team in the Big Ten is a good track and field team. If you were to put them in another setting, they could probably dominate that particular setting. A few key people out for a team, and it could drop like a lead balloon.”
UI director of track & field
Four Hawkeyes are on top of the leaderboard of their events: seniors Troy Doris in the triple jump (53-feet-10 ¼), Jeffery Herron in the high jump (7-4 ¼), and Erik Sowinski in the 800-meter run (1:47.02), and junior Matt Byers in the javelin (223-3). Doris has won the last three Big Ten triple jump titles (two indoor and one outdoor), and Byers is 2-for-2 in conference javelin competitions.
“Matt and Troy have sort of dominated their events and they go in as favorites,” Wieczorek said. “Erik is in one of the toughest events in the Big Ten, the 800. The last several years it has been deep and strong. He is the Big Ten champ indoors, runner-up outdoors (in 2011), third in the country indoors, so he is going in as one of the contenders.”
And then there is the Hawkeyes’ wild-card performer. Similar to last season, Iowa sprinter Justin Austin will have much to say about which team secures the league trophy. Austin was named Big Ten Athlete of the Year and Athlete of the Outdoor Championships in 2011 after he contributed 21 points to Iowa’s school-record point total of 125 ½. He broke a 28-year old school record while winning the Big Ten 200 title (20.46), he placed third in the 100 (with a school-record time of 10.21), and anchored the 4×100-meter relay to fourth. During this injury-filled season, Austin ranks fourth in the 100 (10.40) and 11th in the 200 (21.21).
“Justin hasn’t had the season indoor or outdoor that he did last year,” said Wieczorek, who came one breathe away from adding the word yet to that sentence. “Some of the great athletes I’ve had in the past — Jeremy Allen, Tim Dwight, Bashir Yamini — they always emphasized the fun of the big meet. They reminded the team this is what we’re training for; everyone hopes for a chance to play in the big contest.”
Wieczorek says that Iowa’s 34-man contingent might not be 100 percent healthy, and he would still like to touch-up the confidence of some of his student-athletes. But the Hawkeyes will have a fighting chance this weekend, and they are definitely in the hunt.
“I think we’re going in the best we could possibly hope for,” Wieczorek said.
The Big Ten Conference Outdoor Track and Field Championships are Friday, May 11, to Sunday, May 13, at the McClimon Complex in Madison, Wis.