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.
By DARREN MILLER
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Matt Manternach played baseball at Monticello (Iowa) High School, so he knows how to slide. But it is the sport of track and field that led him to the University of Iowa and after a sliding, runner-up finish in his heat of the men’s 800-meter run Friday at Hornet Stadium, he is on his way to an NCAA semifinal June 6 in Eugene, Oregon.
Manternach’s time of 1:48.63 was second in his eight-person heat to Vincent Crisp of Texas Tech. It also established a personal best at that distance by nearly a second.
His closing speed over the final 100 meters Friday, combined with a similar finish Thursday where he was third in his heat, made an impact on the public address announcer working the NCAA West Preliminary. After his quarterfinal race where Manternach dove headfirst across the line, the announcer said:
“Matt Manternach has really had some great closes and earned his spot to Eugene.”
The race was a highlight for an Iowa program that continues to excel in Sacramento. On Friday, the Hawkeyes qualified seven more student-athletes for the NCAA Championships, including Manternach, who entered the competition ranked 43rd in the region in the 800. (Only the top 12 from the East and West regions advance to the NCAA Championships.)
Still, the result wasn’t a complete surprise to the Hawkeye or his middle distance coach, Jason Wakenight.
“I knew we hadn’t seen him at his best yet,” Wakenight said. “I have seen him practice at a 1:48 level for about a month, it was just a matter of getting in the right situation to execute and do his thing. It so happened he was in the right heat, the right race, the right spot, and he left no doubt.”
Manternach thrives when the tempo is fast from the gun. That was the case Thursday when he set an 800 PR of 1:49.31 and it was the case again Friday when he reset that PR.
“I know a lot of my races this year I just didn’t get out as fast as I am now,” Manternach said. “I knew I had a lot more in the tank, I just needed a good race to get it out. I like the underdog strategy, but I knew I had more to give.”
The biggest and best performance of Manternach’s running career comes less than two weeks after he placed 18th in the 800 at the Big Ten Conference Championships with a time of 1:52.
A sophomore, Manternach was seventh in the 800 at the Big Ten Indoor Championships in 2018 (1:52.04); his top time in the 600 is 1:19.64. Manternach was a member of Iowa’s 4×800 relay that won the Drake Relays title in 2017 with a time of 7:24.77.
None of those milestones compare with what he accomplished Friday at the NCAA West Preliminary. With less than the length of a football field remaining in the second of three heat races, it looked as though Manternach’s season was nearing an end.
“There were a couple moments when things got hairy,” Wakenight said. “He could have made some strategic errors, but he kept his cool and when it was time, he competed to the end.”
Down the stretch, Manternach was in a battle with Erik Martinsson of Texas-Arlington, Charles Jones of Texas Tech, Michael Wilson of New Mexico, and Ty Moss of Nebraska. Moss ran nearly two seconds faster than Manternach at the Big Ten Championships, but that had no bearing on Friday’s result. With the finish in sight, Manternach slithered off the rail and straddled the line between lanes one and two. While the other runners leaned toward the finish, Manternach dove, landed on his stomach, and glided several inches before he glanced toward the scoreboard for his official time and place.
“I knew there were at least three guys in front of me and I was trying to beat one,” Manternach said. “They started slowing down and I started reeling them. I’m sure I had second, but I gave the dive any way because I wanted to leave no doubt.”
It wasn’t the type of slide that would make a major league stolen base leader envious. But it did the trick for an up-and-coming Hawkeye middle distance runner.
“It hurts a little more on the track than it does on a baseball diamond,” Manternach said.
The pain will surely subside by the time he toes the starting line in Eugene.