Hawkeyes' track program building more than momentum under Joey Woody
Joey Woody's first year as Iowa track and field director has been about building, both figuratively and literally.
There's excitement in the program as it opens the NCAA Championships, starting Wednesday in Eugene, Ore.
"We've got the mindset that we believe we can be a consistent top-10 team at the national championships," Woody said, "and maybe shoot to win it with the right people."
The Hawkeyes aren't going to finish top 10 this week, with just four men's events qualified to compete at Hayward Field and two on the women's side. But it's clear the bar has been raised under Woody, who was a world-class hurdler that starred at Iowa City High and Northern Iowa in the 1990s.
The Hawkeye program has taken on the image of its new leader, who was named the successor to longtime coach Larry Wieczorek a year ago. The men finished third in the Big Ten outdoor championships, up from seventh in Wieczorek's final year. The women finished eighth, but more depth is on the way.
"When you look at the bigger nucleus of our team, it's going to start with the speed and power events," Woody, 42, said, "just because that's my background."
Woody in 2000 came within one spot of making the U.S. Olympic team in the 400-meter hurdles. So it's probably not a shock that the Hawkeyes' best hope in Eugene is a hurdler.
Sophomore Aaron Mallett of St. Louis, Mo., is seeded third in the 110 hurdles and credits Woody in elevating his chances to become the first men's NCAA champion for the Hawkeyes since Bashir Yamini (long jump) in 1998.
"He'll find a small thing and make those things better. And one small thing can lead to a huge breakthrough," Mallett said. "So he's the type of coach that I get the most out of his training, his knowledge."
Woody first joined the program as a volunteer assistant in 2006. So he's been a fixture with his hometown university for nearly a decade, including during the men's last Big Ten outdoor title in 2011.
One of his first initiatives as director (he also oversees the cross-country program) was targeting facility upgrades. He led the charge in the university's roughly $2.6 million acquisition of a state-of-the-art, banked track for the UI Recreation Building.
When the six-lane, 200-meter track is installed in time for the 2017 season, it'll have only been used once — at the 2016 World Indoor Championships in Portland, Ore.
"Being in the Northern climate," Woody said, "you have to have a great indoor facility if you want to compete against the best schools in the country."
The purchase could be a game-changer. Woody said less than 20 programs nationally own a banked track, a requirement for hosting national qualifying events.
Recruits, even from far away, are taking notice of Iowa's momentum. Woody said next year's roster will have at least a dozen athletes from California.
"We probably will have our best recruiting class that we've ever had on both the men's and women's side next year," he said, "and we're already getting a lot of looks (for the following class)."
Mallett will be a senior when the new indoor track is unveiled at Iowa. He sees the program building in "the right direction."
"I can tell we're getting better each and every week," he said. "We can definitely be a program that's consistently in the top three in the Big Ten. And if we're top three in the Big Ten, we can compete at the national level."
IOWA AT NCAA TRACK AND FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS
When: Wednesday through Saturday at Hayward Field, Eugene, Ore.
Hawkeye men's qualifers: Senior Babatunde Amosu (triple jump, 16th seed) won the Big Ten indoor and outdoor championships and owns a personal best of 53 feet, 10 inches. Placed 13th at NCAAs in 2014. ... Sophomore Aaron Mallett (110-meter hurdles, third seed) is in his first NCAA semifinal. His personal best of 13.43 seconds is the second-fastest time in the country. ... Junior Mitch Wolff (400 hurdles, 23rd seed) was a surprise NCAA semifinalist by running a personal-best 51.10 in the regional meet. ... The 4x100-meter relay (18th seed) is making its third straight NCAA Championships appearance after Vinnie Saucer Jr., Mallett, Brendan Thompson and Keith Brown ran 39.77 at regionals. James Harrington (whose 10.26 in the 100 is a team-best) is likely to take Thompson's place on the third leg at NCAAs.
Hawkeye women's qualifiers: Senior Brittany Brown (200 meters, 22nd seed) returns to the NCAA semifinals for the second straight year; she was 11th a year ago. Set a school record by running 22.89 seconds at Big Ten Championships. ... Sophomore Elexis Guster (400 meters, 15th seed) is a two-time Big Ten champion with a personal best 52.19 at the conference meet.