Jan. 14, 2015
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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 most instances the act would have gone unnoticed, except it was done within view of a track coach.
So begins the athletic success story of University of Iowa sophomore Aaron Mallett, who was exclusively a sprinter until that day after practice at McCluer North High School near St. Louis. Mallett and his teammates were cooling down after a workout by tossing a football. Like often happens in situations like that, the ball found its way over a fence.
Mallett went on a retrieval mission, leaping effortlessly over the barrier.
“It was natural instinct. I went over as fast as I thought was possible,” Mallett said. “My coach saw me and said, `Oh, you have pretty good form. Let’s see what you can do tomorrow in the hurdles.'”
Not only did Mallett begin his indoctrination into hurdling, he also began a desire of studying video of the top hurdlers in the world. He practiced and studied, studied and practiced. He entered an AAU meet in Ohio, won a hurdle event, and was hooked.
Cue films of Renaldo Nehemiah, Aries Merritt, and David Oliver, a ritual that continues. On New Year’s Eve 2014, Mallett returned to his high school coach’s house and watched race after race of his idols.
Mallett continues to learn by studying great hurdlers and now he is trained daily by Joey Woody, one of those hurdling legends. Woody, an NCAA champion and world championship qualifier in the 400 hurdles, is director of track and field at the University of Iowa.
“Coach Woody sold it for me,” Mallett said. “I wanted to go to Kansas, but I felt like the family atmosphere was better here. (Woody) is a world champion who has coached great athletes, so I wanted to go where I knew I could improve and have a great support team behind me. Iowa was the place.”
Woody entered late to the recruitment of Mallett. When the Hawkeyes joined the mix, Mallett had taken four official visits. But since he lives 3 ½ hours from Francis X. Cretzmeyer Track, Mallett agreed to an unofficial stopover to the UI — and he loved what he saw.
“That made it more of an uphill battle,” Woody said. “To get a kid to come on an unofficial visit who had narrowed things down was a tough thing. I’m glad we were able to get him on campus to show him what Iowa has to offer.
“Now I can focus on what I can tweak and fix on the track while still maintaining my academics. I don’t have that extra stress about worrying about academics. Even though they are getting harder, I can still manage them better than I did as a freshman. It’s about adjusting to everything I have to do on my own, taking responsibility, and getting things done instead of sitting back and letting things slide by.”
UI sophomore hurdler
“He was interested in us because of our hurdle background and the success we have had in the hurdle events. Once he came on campus he was a lot more interested in Iowa, so coach (Larry) Wieczorek and I went down and told him we were going to do everything we could to take care of him. It all worked out for the best.”
And the best is yet to come.
As a freshman, Mallett placed 15th in the 110 hurdles (13.86) and 37th in the 400 hurdles (52.68) at the NCAA West Preliminary Round in Fayetteville, Arkansas. This season Woody thinks Mallett can run 13.5 in the 110 hurdles, sub-50 seconds in the 400 hurdles and run a 46-second split on the 4×400 relay.
“If he is doing those things, he is going to be tough to beat in the Big Ten and he is going to be one of the top athletes in the NCAA Championships,” Woody said.
Mallett was named Most Outstanding Freshman for the Hawkeyes after the 2014 season. He clocked collegiate-best times of 7.88 in the 60-meter hurdles, 13.86 in the 110 high hurdles, and 51.78 in the 400 hurdles. He qualified for the Big Ten finals in the 110 hurdles, placing sixth.
Mallett opened his sophomore season Jan. 10 by winning the Border Battle 60-meter hurdles in 8.04 and finishing third in the 200-meter dash in 22.64.
“I was happy with what I did. It was the first meet of my sophomore season and I got the win, even though I didn’t get the time I wanted,” Mallett said. “I know I can improve that as the season goes on. It’s a stepping stone all the way. You have to stay composed and consistent and hopefully you get where you want to go.”
The second year in the UI track and field program is a smoother situation for Mallett. He has adjusted to life away from home and the rigors of academics as he studies pre-physical therapy.
“Now I can focus on what I can tweak and fix on the track while still maintaining my academics,” Mallett said. “I don’t have that extra stress about worrying about academics. Even though they are getting harder, I can still manage them better than I did as a freshman. It’s about adjusting to everything I have to do on my own, taking responsibility, and getting things done instead of sitting back and letting things slide by.”
One area he is fine-tuning is the control of pre-race nerves. Mallett says anxiety got the best of him as his freshman season came to a close and he doesn’t want that to happen again. He trusts his training, coaches, teammates, and self.
“Breath and relax,” Mallett said. “That will get you through.”
In the University of Iowa, he also has one of the finest support systems in NCAA track and field.
“You’re not in this by yourself, you’re in this with your team,” Mallett said. “Your team is 100 percent behind you, so when you get that cheer from everyone, it makes you feel like a family. That’s a great feeling when you have everybody behind you.”
The Hawkeyes continue their indoor season Jan. 24 at the Big Four Duals in Ames, Iowa. It is the event where Mallett claimed his first career collegiate hurdle victory.
And it all started by chasing a wayward ball.