Youth of a Hawkeye Nation

Feb. 15, 2014

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 people have spoken, and they appear to have got it right.

The University of Iowa track and field program elected six team captains last fall to lead the Hawkeyes in 2014. Upon first glance, the election results appeared in political harmony.

The genders? An even split — three men and three women.

The events? A fair variety of sprints, hurdles, throws, distance and multi-events.

The requisite veterans? Five seniors and… hello? One sophomore?

MonTayla Holder, an Indianapolis native, was just 19-years-old when teammates voted her one of six team captains in October. Her coaches say she earned the honor, and Holder says she is ready for the responsibility.

“It may be early being elected team captain as a sophomore, but I like the role because I get to influence the girls,” said Holder, referring to the influx of freshmen on Iowa’s roster. “I like to be their leader. I like being there and helping them out, and I think it has a big influence on our team.”

Four weeks into the indoor season, Holder’s approval ratings have been nothing but positive.

“She gives us a lot of insight at meets about what we should be doing at practice and how we can get better,” said freshman Alexis Hernandez, who has climbed into the all-time top 10 in the 400 meters. “She cares a lot about the team as a whole and about our success.”

What Holder lacks in experience she makes up for in knowledge. She has only one season of Division I training under her belt, but that season ended just nine months ago at the 2013 NCAA Championships, and the lessons she learned as a freshman are fresh on her mind.

“Last year I didn’t really have someone to keep me motivated and keep the team up top where we needed to be,” she said. “I just feel like the freshmen coming in need someone there to remind them what our team goals are and to keep them working hard in practice.”

Freshman Elexis Guster said she leaned on Holder to right a wrong when the Hawkeyes returned from campus following winter break.

“We had a hard practice the day we came back, and I was dying,” said Guster. “I didn’t eat right, and she reminded me what I should be doing with my nutrition. She’s very big on helping each other out. She’s like a sister, like family, she’s just there for us regardless.”

The praise directed at Holder is not lip service. The words are substantiated by results.

Iowa’s trio of Holder, Hernandez and Guster rank No. 5, 6, and 8, respectively, on the school’s list of all-time top 400-meter performers. But even more importantly, they stack up favorably against today’s Big Ten field.

Last year, Iowa was shutout of the 400-meter conference finals. If the 2014 Big Ten Championships started today, the Hawkeyes would be seeded No. 4, 5, and 6.

“We want to succeed so badly,” said Holder. “We placed 11th in the Big Ten last year, and this year I’m putting it on me and my group to put as many points on the board as we can so that we don’t have to feel like I felt last year.”

Holder said she’d like to see Iowa move into to the top half of the Big Ten, effective immediately. Beyond that, she is setting no limits.

“These freshmen have come in and changed the whole group around,” said Holder. “We are not the same group we were last year. They’re so mature right now it kind of scares me because they’re so good. I think we’ll continue to get better as the years come.”