24 Hawkeyes to Watch: Lake Kwaza

May 9, 2013

Watch the 24 Hawkeyes to Watch — L. Kwaza Video

Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Monday, Aug. 6, 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 2012-13 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 — Lake Kwaza moves quickly on and off the track.

The sprinter for the University of Iowa women’s track and field team covers 60 meters in a swift 7.55 seconds, and 100 meters in 11.6. And just two semesters into her pursuit of a sports management degree, Kwaza wastes no time revealing her career goal.

“My ultimate dream is to own the Chicago Bulls (NBA basketball franchise),” Kwaza said. “Being in the athletic world will get me other connections with other athletes, so hopefully those connections will help.”

While it would be easy to tell Kwaza to slow down a bit with her professional aspirations, no one is putting the brakes on an impressive beginning to her competitive running career. There are at least two meets remaining in her freshman season and the school record in the 100 dash is a carrot dangling in front of her nose. Former Hawkeye Vivien McKenzie ran 11.45 in 1985, a mark Kwaza seeks to better at the upcoming Big Ten Conference Championships (May 10-12) or NCAA West Preliminary (May 23-25).

“I’m going for the school record right now,” Kwaza said. “I don’t feel any pressure because I’m a freshman and nobody really knows my name. If I break it, I will get my name out there and people will know, `Oh, that’s Lake Kwaza.'”

UI assistant coach Clive Roberts calls the state of Illinois a hotbed for sprinting talent, and the Hawkeyes found a keeper in Kwaza, a native of Sycamore, Ill.

“She is a great kid who comes to work every day to work hard,” Roberts said. “We’ll keep building on the season.”

During the building process — which could conclude June 5-8 at the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore. — Roberts is looking for the best version of Kwaza.

“What does that mean? Go to the Big Ten Championships and do the best she is able to do,” Roberts said. “If that is a win, that would be great. If it is not, at least fight and keep extending her season — everything beyond this point you have to qualify for.”

Kwaza has improved since pulling a hamstring at a meet in January. The injury set her back mentally and physically, but she learned to deal with the pain and has sprinted ahead.

One of the first people to “recruit” Kwaza was a UI student who attended her high school.

“He kept telling me that I was going to Iowa, but I said I didn’t know anything about Iowa or anyone there,” Kwaza said.

Until she visited Iowa City.

“Coach Roberts drew me in and I got to meet the team and it felt like home,” Kwaza said.

When Kwaza arrived, she was overwhelmed by what she called “crazy” workouts. “They were a lot harder than high school and it was every single day,” she said.

Results began to show. Practices and strength training provided Kwaza a boost during the middle part of the 100 that she had never felt before. It lifted her to a runner-up finish at the Drake Relays on April 27, clocking a season-best 11.60, .05 behind Dominique Kimpel of Iowa Central.

The 11.60 puts Kwaza fifth on the Big Ten Conference performance list in the 100 behind Morolake Akinosun of Illinois (11.29), Ashley Spencer of Illinois (11.46), Mahagony Jones of Penn State (11.55) and Jellisa Westney of Michigan State (11.58).

Kwaza realized her sprinting gift in second grade, when during a 40-yard fitness-test, she set a school record.

“My mom said, `OK, you’re a runner, you’re not a soccer player,” Kwaza said.

Still, Kwaza remained active by participating in soccer from third-through-eighth grades and basketball from seventh-through-12th grades. In junior high, she even competed in cross country, advancing to state in eighth grade at a distance of two miles.

In high school, Kwaza was a three-time all-state selection, finishing runner-up three times in the 100 and once in the 200 in Class 2A.

“We’re happy to get Lake into the program,” Roberts said. “She has come in as a freshman and solidified that short sprints area.”

A veteran in the Hawkeye sprints group is senior Raven Moore, who, like Kwaza, competes at anywhere from 60 to 400 meters. Moore and Kwaza shared 11th place at the 2013 Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championships in the 60 (7.547).

“She is always there encouraging and helping us out,” Kwaza said of Moore. “She makes sure we’re OK and makes sure we’re getting places if we need to go somewhere outside of practice. We don’t talk about `I beat you, you beat me.’ We race and leave it on the track.”

Kwaza isn’t the only Hawkeye newcomer making an impact. There are 23 freshmen on the women’s roster and six of those are members of the sprinting corps.

“We’re going to surprise a lot of people this year, but probably more next year,” Kwaza said. “We set the bar high, so freshmen coming in will have to step up a little bit to keep up.”

For Kwaza, the quicker the better.