A Wolff in Hawkeye Clothing

May 30, 2015

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AUSTIN, Texas — Drop the hurdle height six inches and tack 290 meters onto the race.

That formula allowed University of Iowa sophomore Mitch Wolff to advance to the NCAA Finals in the 400-meter hurdles Friday at Mike A. Myers Stadium.

Wolff, a native of Plainfield, Illinois, entered Joey Woody‘s Hawkeye program in 2013 as a 110-meter high hurdler. He competed in the 300-meter hurdles just twice in high school and stutter-stepped his way to the finish line.


About the only thing Wolff ran into during the early part of his career on campus were injuries. He redshirted the 2014 indoor season.

But Woody, an NCAA and world champion hurdler and 400-meter runner, had a plan B for Wolff.

“He did the 300 hurdles a couple times in high school and he was a good 400 meter runner, so I always had in my mind that he was going to be a good 400 hurdler,” Woody said.

According to Wolff, hurdling is like riding a bike.

“You don’t forget how to go over a hurdle, but I definitely had to use my left leg and that’s like an alien leg,” Wolff said of the transition from the 110 highs to the 400 hurdles. “It’s very strange and it took a lot of work as coach Woody could tell you. It wasn’t pretty at first, it was pretty ugly.”

Wolff dove into the event, but his season was cut short a year ago after he dove headfirst into the all-weather surface during the Big Ten Conference Championships. That kept him from a qualifying time worthy of attending the West Preliminary in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Wolff, Woody, and assistant coach Jason Wakenight remained persistent.

“I have spent so much time throughout the summer and throughout this year working hard,” said Wolff, who entered the NCAA West Preliminary with a PR of 51.26 seconds. “I have been pushed so much by my teammates and by both coach Wakenight and coach Woody. They are great with pushing me every single day.”

“You don’t forget how to go over a hurdle, but I definitely had to use my left leg and that’s like an alien leg. It’s very strange and it took a lot of work as coach Woody could tell you. It wasn’t pretty at first, it was pretty ugly.”
Mitch Wolff
UI 400-meter hurdler

It added up to a happy bunch of Hawkeyes Friday evening when Wolff turned in a career-best time of 51.10 seconds in a 400 hurdle quarterfinal. But there was still a snag: Wolf placed fifth in the first of three heats. The top three from each quarterfinal, plus the next three fastest times, would move on to the NCAA Finals from June 10-13 in Eugene, Oregon. That meant that if two other “at-large” finishers ran faster than 51.10, Wolff’s hurdle season would be over.

The fourth-place finisher in the second heat was Texas A&M-Corpus Christie freshman Kemar Mowatt in 51.42. Wolff was still alive. The fourth-place finisher in the third heat was Texas-San Antonio junior Jurmarcus Shelvin in 50.65, which bumped Wolff to the final qualifying spot…as long as the fifth-place runner in that heat didn’t pass him as well.

The names and times flashed slowly on the jumbotron. Heat three…fifth place…Brigham Young junior Korey Smith…51.24, or 0.14 slower than Wolff.

“It was kind of an emotional roller coaster because I knew I didn’t hit the auto qualifying,” Wolff said of his two heats of scoreboard watching. “I wondered if my time was going to be fast enough. I was excited because I knew that even though I didn’t get top three in my heat that I was in the fastest heat; those guys were monsters. The announcer was talking all about them before the race started, so I had a little more confidence because of that.”

Wolff’s performance is 10th-best all-time for the Hawkeyes, but he plans on moving up to join the efforts of Ray Varner (50.24) and Ethan Holmes (50.51), all who represented the UI in the 400 hurdles during the last five seasons.

“If I can get a PR (in Eugene) that would be great, just get a 50-point,” Wolff said. “If I can continue running smooth races, add a bit more speed in there, the time will drop and I’ll come into the (NCAA semifinals) running faster, running better and dropping that seed even lower trying to make the final.”

Wolff’s time on the track in Austin is not over yet. He will lead off Iowa’s 4×400-meter relay that is scheduled to run Saturday evening at 9:45 (CT).

“I am proud of his efforts throughout this season and it was a big accumulation of all the hard work he has put in,” Woody said.

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