By DARREN MILLER
IOWA CITY, Iowa — When the University of Iowa track and field teams packed for the Big Ten Conference Indoor Championships, they loaded starting blocks and mini hurdles. What they didn’t bring to Ann Arbor, Michigan, last weekend was a broom.
Juniors Jaylan McConico and Jenny Kimbro took care of the sweeping with back-to-back victories in the men’s and women’s 60-meter hurdles.
McConico was first across the finish line in 7.79 seconds in a men’s race that saw Hawkeyes finish first, third, and fourth. Kimbro set a facility record by winning the women’s race in 8.29 seconds. She is the first Hawkeye female to win a Big Ten 60-meter hurdle title.
“Having Jenny win on the women’s side is the one I wanted bad,” said Joey Woody, Iowa director of track and field. “I think it sets a precedent of what type of hurdle program we expect to have on the women’s side like we have with the men.”
Ten minutes before Kimbro’s race, the Hawkeyes featured McConico, senior Chris Douglas, and sophomore Anthony Williams in the eight-person men’s final. Douglas was third in 7.84 and Williams was fourth in 7.88.
“I was watching them in warm-ups and the guys looked ready and confident,” Woody said. “Jaylan and Chris both looked ready to win. Anthony is progressing well and every race he has gotten better. In my mind, I envisioned we could go 1-2-3, but I didn’t know what the order would be.”
For McConico, it is his second consecutive conference title, but he did it last year as an Illinois State Redbird running 7.64 in the finals of the Missouri Valley championships.
“It was good to keep that reign going, no matter the conference,” McConico said. “It was nerve-racking being in that Big Ten environment. It was different from being in MVCs last year. I trusted my training and what I do every day and that helped me push through.”
McConico transferred to Iowa because of its proximity to his home in Bolingbrook, Illinois, the outstanding facilities and atmosphere, and his familiarity with the Hawkeyes. In the past he had competed against Iowa’s Aaron Mallett and Douglas.
Now he trains daily with Douglas, Williams, and the rest of the Hawkeye hurdle corps.
“We push each other and it feels like a hurdle final every day in practice,” said McConico, who will make his second consecutive appearance at indoor nationals. “I am used to that caliber of competition every day in practice. It helps going into a race.”
While McConico had just a 60-meter hurdle preliminary under his belt prior to finals, by the time Kimbro settled into the starting blocks, she had already finished a pentathlon, where she was runner-up to teammate Tria Simmons, and a hurdle preliminary, where she had the fastest qualifying time of 8.31 seconds.
Her mission in the finals was two-fold: calm her nerves and start fast.
“I was focused on out of the blocks to the first hurdle, because sometimes I have a tendency to be really high over the first hurdle,” Kimbro said. “I was thinking about that a lot to make sure the first hurdle was OK and set up the rest of the race. I know I hit a couple hurdles in the middle, I’m just glad it didn’t affect me much.”
The difference between Kimbro and runner-up Jasmine Barge, a senior from Nebraska, was 0.01 seconds.
“I could feel the girls beside me and we were pushing each other along,” Kimbro said. “It came to the last few meters after the last hurdle. I had no idea (who won) until the times came up on the scoreboard, so that was exciting.”
In a matter of 15 minutes, the Hawkeye track and field program compiled 31 points in the 60-meter hurdles (21 from men, 10 for women). No other program came close to matching that combined production (Nebraska scored 21).
“The expectation is that we are going to be a great hurdle program,” Woody said. “The future is bright.”
It might be time to invest in more brooms.