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. To receive daily news from the Iowa Hawkeyes, sign up HERE.
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth part in a five-part series previewing the University of Iowa track and field team’s indoor season. The final installment previews the Hawkeye distance squad.
By JACK ROSSI
IOWA CITY, Iowa — The group to have competed most recently is the Iowa distance crew, and after finishing the 2017 cross country season with an all-region performer and school record, this group may be the X factor for the Hawkeyes in 2018.
“Coach Hasenbank did a tremendous job this year and the entire group improved a lot from last year,” said Iowa director of track and field Joey Woody. “If you look, they moved up a lot of places during the cross country season. That season is a good indicator of what’s expected during the track season.”
The Hawkeyes return three of their four NCAA qualifiers from 2017 — senior Marta Bote Gonzalez, junior Andrea Shine, and sophomore Nathan Mylenek.
During the cross country season, Shine ended a five-year drought when she was named all-region at the NCAA Midwest Regional. She also ranks in Iowa’s all-time top 10 in the 4,000-meters (seventh) and 6,000-meters (ninth).
“She moved up 37 places from where she was at the Big Ten Championships a year ago,” Woody said. “When you have that kind of improvement, it bodes well for what she is able to do in the indoor and outdoor seasons.”
Mylenek, an NCAA qualifier, led a men’s cross country team that ranked a program best fifth in the Midwest region. He set a school record in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA Midwest Regional in November. Mylenek’s time of 29:53.2 broke a seven-year record set by Jeff Thode in 2010.
“That guy is fun to watch,” Woody said. “He is fearless and doesn’t fear anybody. I am looking for some big things out of him during the indoor season, which will carry over to the outdoor season with the steeplechase, which is his big event. We feel like he is one of our best 1,500-meter runners on the team, too.”
The eldest of the trio is Gonzalez, a two-time NCAA qualifier, who has eyes on being an All-American in 2018.
“Marta is more of a 3,000 runner so, 6,000-meters in cross country is a little on her high end, but she is somebody who has helped us a lot in the mile and 3,000-meters. We are looking forward for her to keep developing there.”
ATHLETES POISED FOR A BREAKOUT SEASON
Junior Lauren Opatrny has battled injuries throughout her career, but after a consistent cross country season, the indoor season could be her big breakthrough on the track.
“She has been behind on her training,” Woody said. “Looking at where she developed and took off at the end of the cross country season makes us excited for the season. The biggest thing for her is continuing to develop her speed and staying healthy.”
Sophomore Karson Sommer had his two best races at the Big Ten Cross Country Championships and NCAA Regional. He was one of six Hawkeyes to compete in every race during the cross country season.
“Seeing his development in the 8,000 and 10,000 is probably on his high end of things, so I am pleased with what he was able to handle all the way up to 10,000- meters,” Woody said. “Now he has to focus on being a miler, picking up his speed, and getting back to where his strong suit is.”