Kicking the Tires on the 4x1

April 2, 2013

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 — Simply put, the University of Iowa’s 400-meter relay team is fast. Now it’s up to crew chief Joey Woody to find the right combination of tires to make it faster.

In its first race of the outdoor season, the 400-meter relay team clocked a time of 40.22 to win gold at the Alabama Relays and race to the top of the Big Ten standings. In their debut performance, Tevin-Cee Mincy, Justin Austin, Ethan Holmes and Josh Larney executed three baton exchanges around the 400-meter oval to earn the title.

Some would say a first-place performance in SEC country would be enough to warrant a second lap, but this year Woody has more sprint options than he has ever had in his previous five seasons at Iowa and, as a result, the relay has become an open competition.

“You’ve got to always have at least five or six guys competing for those four spots,” said Woody, the 2011 USTFCCCA Midwest Region Coach of the Year. “If you don’t have that, there is not as much pressure to do well and earn a spot on the team.”

The season-opening foursome is complemented by All-American Jordan Mullen and junior college transfer Keith Brown, a 2011 NAIA All-American.

Austin, the school record-holder in the 100 meters, says this year’s depth has put everyone on notice.

“It keeps people fighting,” said Austin. “We have six legit people that can go out there and put together a really good 4×1, so it keeps people on their toes. Everyone is training hard trying to get on that relay team.”

In 2011, Mincy ran the lead leg on the third-fastest 400-meter relay in school history, but that was two years ago, and he’s among the believers that daily competition is healthy for the good of the group.

“It’s not something that is just there,” said Mincy. “There are no guarantees. Now we have to earn it, which means we all have to work harder and get faster. Right now it could be between me and Mullen starting it off. Next week, Mullen is going to lead off. I had it last week, so it’s a chance to see what he can do.”

Mullen and Holmes are both seniors, and both rank among the program’s all-time top five in the 110-meter high hurdles, but entering this season neither has made a habit of running the 100.

“Both of those guys have tremendous foot speed,” said Woody. “We’ve been talking about putting them on the relay, but it had to be the right situation. The key is to keep both those guys healthy and making sure they’re taking care of their individual events.”

Holmes, who in 2011 was the only athlete in the country to qualify for the NCAA final site in three events, has no qualms about adding another race to his repertoire.

“You have to take it one race at a time,” said Holmes, “but I’ll do them all because I’m not afraid to put myself out there to score as many points as I can for the team, especially at the Big Ten Championships. It’s always good at the conference meet to make a big showing.”

Iowa’s 400-meter relay team has won six Big Ten titles in school history, including a stretch of three championships in four years from 1998-2001. But it has been 12 years since the Hawkeyes won their last 4×1 crown, and Woody believes the end of that drought could be near.

“There’s no question that this is probably the best group we’ve had since I’ve been here, that’s why we’re really excited about the potential,” said Woody.” We have a great shot at winning it this year. That’s our number one goal, to win the Big Ten title. Then we turn to the NCAAs and advancing to the finals. From there we’ll see what happens.”

The Hawkeyes’ next test lap is this weekend at the Jack Click Invite in Tempe, Ariz. Iowa returns home April 20 for the 14th annual Musco Twilight meet, and travels to Des Moines on April 25-27 for the Drake Relays. Iowa’s 400-meter relay team won the white flag at Drake in 2009. The Big Ten Championships are May 10-12 in Columbus, Ohio.