Sept. 24, 2014
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- 24 Hawkeyes to Watch
Editor’s note: 24 Hawkeyes to Watch is a feature released Monday, Aug. 4, 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 2014-15 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.
By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — In the case of Samantha Zishka, the apple didn’t fall far from the family tree.
Zishka, who goes by Sammie or Sam, is a sophomore on the University of Iowa cross country and track teams. She is majoring in exercise science and has an interest in physical therapy. Consider that her father ran track at the University of Oregon and her mother is a physical therapist at The Ohio State Wexner Medical Center, and it’s easy to see that she is a solid chip off the block.
Zishka was fond of her upbringing and the decision to become a runner and physical therapist were decisions she made with no parental prodding.
“I have been around the occupation a long time and it interests me,” Zishka said of her pursuit in exercise science.
As for her affection of running, Zishka started in junior high and had an at-home resource in her father/coach.
“It was a blessing and a curse, but definitely more of a blessing,” Zishka said of running for her father. “The constant talk about running got overwhelming at times, but at the end of the day I wouldn’t have had it any other way. His knowledge helped me become a better runner because I knew how to train the correct way.”
When Zishka was a child, she participated in “everything except running.”
“I did ballet, baton, soccer, and swimming,” Zishka said. “I remember signing up in sixth grade at the end of the year and I was excited to start cross country. That was my first step.”
Her fresh legs carried Zishka to immediate success at the small private school she attended. Then Zishka transferred to Lancaster High School, the main Division I school in the city.
“I got a taste of competition and I was not an all-star,” she said.
In high school Zishka was three-time all-district and four-time all-conference and team MVP in cross country. She was a two-time all-district selection in track and twice was named team distance MVP. Zishka made her only state appearance as a senior in cross country, placing 33rd in the women’s Division I 5K with a time of 18:49.50.
“I just wasn’t a 10:40 two-miler or a 5-flat miler,” Zishka said. “I had the dedication, but not necessarily the PRs.”
UI head coach Layne Anderson recognized that Zishka had a great running pedigree.
“We have three training groups and I feel comfortable at the paces of all three groups, which is 12 girls. That is such a contrast to high school. I like running with a group of girls because it simulates a race — not that we race every practice, but it simulates working together and then recreating that on the weekend is effortless.”
UI distance runner
“She comes in with some genetic ability, we knew that in the recruitment process,” Anderson said. “She is a lady that works hard and wants to be good.”
Zishka had a flashy introduction to her college career in 2013, placing fifth at the Hawkeye Early Bird Invitational (11:08.50 for 3,000 meters), 14th at the Iowa Black & Gold Invitational (14:34.32 for 4,000 meters), and 134th at the Roy Griak Invitational (22:53.60 for 6,000 meters).
A strained hip flexor put an end to Zishka’s first fall, but she returned for outdoor track after redshirting during the indoor track season. Her top times are 4:50.39 in the 1,500-meter run and 10:21.72 in the 3,000 run.
A strong and healthy offseason — where Zishka’s training reached 50 miles a week — has led to high hopes for a strong sophomore year.
“Summer training and building a good base is important,” Zishka said. “When you get back to school you can sharpen and get a little quicker.”
Zishka opened the season by finishing eighth at the Country Financial Illinois State University Invite in Normal, Illinois. Her 5K time was 17:56, second among all Hawkeyes behind sophomore Katie Adams.
“The opportunity to race was great, and starting the season well and going 1-2 (on the team) with my roommate (Adams) was cool,” Zishka said. “It was a nice dynamic to feel strong finishing a race and knowing everyone else performed well, too.”
Eight Hawkeyes recorded times between 17:51 and 18:19.
At the Big Ten Preview meet Sept. 20 on the Ashton Cross Country Course, Zishka was third among Hawkeyes in 31st place. Her 6K time was 22:31.04, a PR by more than 22 seconds. The top seven Iowa runners were within 58 seconds of each other at the finish.
Having a solid core of training partners has been a plus for Zishka, who in high school could be found running with the boys’ team or her father.
“We have three training groups and I feel comfortable at the paces of all three groups, which is 12 girls,” Zishka said. “That is such a contrast to high school. I like running with a group of girls because it simulates a race — not that we race every practice, but it simulates working together and then recreating that on the weekend is effortless.”
Like most runners, remaining healthy is at the top of Zishka’s wish list. She wants to be part of the Hawkeyes’ seven-member travel party and compete at the NCAA Midwest Regional on Nov. 14 in Peoria, Illinois.
“We have to work to get her fitness and confidence to that level where she can achieve those performances,” Anderson said. “She is on the right path. Racing will be a pig part of that journey.”
Another key is exercising patience which could translate to extended good health and progress. In the end, Zishka could make a leap forward instead of a step.
“Coach wants me to set my sights higher and be competitive on the Big Ten level on a Big Ten team,” Zishka said. “This is a huge step up from high school, I’m not even the same person anymore. It’s not a baby step forward, it’s a huge leap.”
The Hawkeyes return to action Friday, Oct. 3, at the Notre Dame Invitational in South Bend, Indiana.