With a finishing kick, Iowa could make a resounding final statement in what’s already been a statement year for its track and field program.
Joey Woody’s Hawkeyes open the NCAA Championships on Wednesday with some tantalizing possibilities.
The first NCAA champion in the women’s program since 2006? The first on the men’s side since 1998? How about a top-10 national finish for the Big Ten Conference-winning men?
Those are big goals, but all are at least within reach.
Iowa brought 13 athletes to compete in 14 events over the course of four days at the University of Texas. Let’s look at the three events where the Hawkeyes have their best shot at winning an NCAA title.
Laulauga Tausaga, women’s discus
Seventh at NCAAs as a freshman, fourth as a sophomore … first as a junior? We'll see. Tausaga is coming off a school-record throw of 62.69 meters (205 feet, 8 inches) that was tops among all competitors at both NCAA regional meets. She’s certainly a favorite.
The last Hawkeye woman to win an NCAA title was Kineke Alexander in the 400 meters.
“The biggest thing with (Tausaga) is just doing what she’s been doing all year,” said Woody, who on Friday became the first Hawkeye to be named the Midwest Region coach of the year. “… Just staying loose and confident. When you’re ranked high and you’ve got the ability, you’ve just got to do your thing.”
Mar’yea Harris, men’s 400 meters
The senior was fourth in this event a year ago (45.00 seconds) and won the Big Tens (44.98). Woody said Harris has looked “exceptional” in practice. Bashir Yamini in the long jump was Iowa's last NCAA men's champion.
“Now, it’s go time,” Woody said. “You can’t hold back and try to have fresh legs for the 4-by-4. You’ve got to go hard every round.”
Men’s 4x400 relay
Woody takes pride in having a strong 400 program, and this event serves as a showcase for it. The Hawkeyes were third in 2017 in a school-record 3:01.91. Woody thinks breaking 3:01 is possible for the quartet of Karayme Bartley, Wayne Lawrence Jr., Antonio Woodard and Harris. They ran 3:03.20 in colder temperatures at regionals.
“Running 3:03, we felt all those guys could run three-quarters of a second faster on each leg,” Woody said. “If we do that, that’d give us the 3 seconds we need to run a 3-flat and have a shot at winning.”
And about the team goal …
Cracking the top 10 on the men’s side would take a fast, fantastic week. An eighth-place event finish is required to score just one team point; last year, the 10th-place team scored 26 points.
“I think we’ve scratched the surface at the national meet for what I think we can be,” said Woody, who took over as track and field director in 2015. “We want to score 20-plus points, and that would give us a shot at being a top-10 team.
“We’ve got to be one of those teams that has a lot of guys making the final. That’d really set us up well.”
Iowa's NCAA qualifiers
Men: Karayme Bartley (200, 4x100, 4x400), Chris Douglas (400 hurdles), Mar’yea Harris (400, 4x400), Collin Hofacker (4x100), Jay Hunt (high jump), Wayne Lawrence Jr. (400, 4x100, 4x400), Jaylan McConico (110 hurdles), Nate Mylenek (3,000 steeplechase), Antonio Woodard (200, 4x100, 4x400).
Women: Nia Britt (shot put), Jenny Kimbro (heptathlon), Tria Simmons (heptathlon), Laulauga Tausaga (discus).