Day 1 is Literally Just the Beginning

Aug 19, 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 — The University of Iowa men’s cross country season begins today. When it will end is up for interpretation.

The schedule says the season wraps Nov. 23 at the NCAA Championships, but UI head coach Larry Wieczorek sees the competition extending through the winter and into the spring.

“Cross country is an end in itself, and yet it’s a means to an end,” said Wieczorek, who enters his 26th season as Iowa’s head coach. “In other words, I think the kids in cross country are distance runners that need to be integral parts to our track and field team. Typically the best cross country runners in the nation are the same people scoring points at the track and field conference and national meets.”

Scoring points at the national meet has become the norm for a track and field team that has earned 31 All-America honors since 2010. Unfortunately, the distance corps accounts for just one of those honors.

Wieczorek believes that can change this year, starting in the fall.

“The distance guys are motivated by the success of our track team, and I think they feel pressure, and I do as their event coach, to produce and contribute to Big Ten Championships,” said Wieczorek. “Fortunately, we have people who are capable of doing it, and I believe it’s the type of group that can get us back to that run of NCAA appearances.”

Wieczorek’s cross country program earned its first NCAA bid in 1998 by finishing runner-up at the NCAA Regional. The Hawkeyes then strung together a run of four championship appearances in five years, including a regional title in 2002, and three straight NCAA bids from 2004-06.

“We were in the NCAA championship for four seasons from 2002-06,” said Wieczorek. “We need to do it again in cross country, but then continue the success on the track. This is a talented group that will take some time for development, but the veterans and the news guys have track credentials that indicate we can get it done.”

Juniors Kevin Lewis and Ben Witt, and senior John Michael Brandt are the men’s top returners. Lewis is a two-time NCAA qualifier in track and field. Brandt was Iowa’s top finisher at the 2012 NCAA Midwest Cross Country Regional, and Witt peaked with a personal best at the 2012 conference championships. All three are expected to take a step forward and pave a path for sophomore Caleb Wilfong, and newcomers Matt Butler, Kevin Docherty, and Quentin Shaffer.

“Our optimism legitimately is the highest it has been in several years,” said Wieczorek. “We have a great group of veterans and newcomers that can make it happen.”

The Hawkeyes open the season with consecutive home meets on Aug. 30 and Sept. 13. They’ll compete at the Roy Griak in Minneapolis on Sept. 28 before beginning postseason preparations at the Pre-National Invitational (Oct. 20). The Big Ten Championships are Nov. 3 at Purdue, two weeks before the NCAA Regional in Ames, Iowa. The NCAA Championships are hosted by Indiana State in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 23.