Iowa men and women hope to make some noise at the NCAA Track and Field Championships

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Joey Woody has a quiet moment to himself after Iowa had clinched the Big Ten men's title

By Pat Harty

IOWA CITY, Iowa – Maybe the best way to describe Joey Woody at this stage of his track and field coaching career is that he is pleased and proud, but hardly satisfied.

Woody will cherish forever the Big Ten men’s title that Iowa won three weeks ago in Iowa City, and he was encouraged by the Iowa women’s third-place finish.

But Woody wants more than just conference success.

He is determined to make both the Iowa men’s and women’s programs relevant on the national scene, and the best way to achieve that would be to have a strong showing at the NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

That opportunity will present itself Wednesday through Saturday when Iowa competes at the 2019 NCAA Championships in Austin, Texas.

“I think both men and women have a chance at definitely being in the top twenty,” Woody said this past Friday before practice.

Woody is shooting for top-10 finishes for both of Iowa’s squads, however, points don’t come easy at the NCAA Championships.

All of the participants are talented and performing well or they wouldn’t have qualified for college track’s premier event.

“We’ve got to score twenty-plus points to be one of those top ten teams,” Woody. “And it usually takes about ten points or so to be one of the top twenty teams, which I definitely think we can do on both the men and women’s side.”

The top four finishers in the team competition are awarded with trophies as Woody pointed out on Friday, saying it would take about 30 points to be in the running for a trophy.

That seems beyond Iowa’s reach right now, but the always confident Woody is determined to change that.

“That’s out goal, eventually, if we can get there,” Woody said. “If we get some finalists on the final day on Friday for the guys, I think we’ve got a shot.”

 A total of 13 Hawkeyes will compete in 14 events, including senior Mar’yea Harris, who is making his fourth consecutive appearance at the NCAA Championships.

Harris finished fourth in the 400 meters at the 2018 NCAA Championships and he has won that event at the Big Ten meet in each of the past two seasons. He also runs the anchor leg for Iowa 4x400 relay squad, which finished first at the Big Ten Championships with a time of 3 minutes, 7.36 seconds, and is also the school record holder in the indoor 400 (45.75) and the 600 meters (1:16.60).

“I did way more than I expected to do, so I’m always happy about that,” Harris said.

Harris has one last chance to add to his already rich Hawkeye legacy. He ranks among the top collegiate 400-meter runners in the country, and he runs the very important anchor leg for Iowa's 4x400 relay squad, which is considered a national contender.

“It hasn’t really hit me yet that it’s my last meet, but I’ve just been thinking, it’s my last meet as a Hawkeye I might as well go out there and go crazy one last time and have a good time,” Harris said. “We’ve got a bunch of good guys out there.

“Our four-by-one and our four-by-four (relay teams) have a good chance of making the finals. Our four-by-four has a good chance of winning. So let’s go out there and try and have some fun and try to win something.”

Harris grew up in Washington, but he spent his final two years of high school in Long Beach, Calif.

He knew nothing about Iowa, including its location, but that all changed as Harris built a relationship with Iowa assistant coach and recruiting coordinator Jason Wakenight.

“That man can sell you your own shoes if you really need him to,” Harris said. “I had a lot of trust and faith in him. He told me he’d get me fast and I believed him, and I came on a visit and I enjoyed every second I was here. I think Iowa is a great place. I think the school is great, and I think the people are great out here also.”

As for the Iowa women, senior Laulauga Tausaga is making her third trip to the NCAA Championships in the discus and she placed fourth in that event last year.

A native of Spring Valley, Calif., Tausaga is a three-time Big Ten champion in the discus and she was named Big Ten Field Athlete of the Championships at the conference meet last month.

All that has eluded her to this point is a national title.

“I have the ability to win, Tausaga said. “But at the same time, I have to understand that shouldn’t have me slack off because there were about three or four girls who had (personal records) at regionals, and they could do it again. Somebody could come out and throw something that I’m not even possible of (doing) yet with the training I’m having now and the ability I have.”

Asked what it would mean to win a national title, Tausaga paused briefly before saying:

“At this point, it’s pretty much everything,” she said.

Senior Chris Douglas hopes to make some noise in the 400-meter hurdles in his final appearance as a Hawkeye. Douglas was the surprise winner in the 400 hurdles at the Big Ten meet, and he has Woody to rely on for support and for advice.

Woody won the 400 hurdles at the 1997 NCAA Championships as a senior at Northern Iowa.

His background and his knowledge of the event helped convince Douglas to be a Hawkeye.

“It was something that was really appealing to me while I was looking for schools knowing that he was an NCAA champion I just knew that having a coach who obviously knew that event was going to be extremely beneficial and I really wouldn’t find that at any other schools," Douglas said.

Woody and his student-athletes also have the memory of former volunteer assistant John Raffensperger to serve as inspiration. Raffensperger died in April at the age of 78 after a lengthy battle against cancer.

Raffensperger had a big influence on Woody's success in track, as both an athlete and coach. Raffensperger was Woody's head coach in track at Iowa City High School, and he would go on to become Woody's mentor and close frield.

"I know he’s up above us looking down and smiling," Woody said of Raffensperger after Iowa has won the Big Ten title. “I know he wanted to be here so bad, and that’s what he was fighting for. But he had the best seat in the house.”

2019 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships

When: Wednesday through Saturday

Where: Mike A. Meyers Stadium, Austin, Texas

Iowa’s NCAA qualifiers

Name, class, events, hometown

Nia Britt, junior, shot put, Sherman Oka, Calif.

Chris Douglas, senior, 400 hurdles, Deerfield, Ill.

Mar’yea Harris, senior, 400 meters, 4x400 relay, Auburn, Wash.

Jay Hunt, sophomore, high jump, Batavia, Ill.

Jenny Kimbro, junior, heptathlon, Caitlin, Ill.

Wayne Lawrence, 400-meters, 4x100, 4x400, Dayton, Ohio

Jaylan McConico, junior, 110-hurdles, Bolingbrook, Ill.

Nate Mylenek, junior, 3,000-meter steeplechase, Clarkston, Mich.

Tria Simmons, senior, heptathlon, Phoenix, Ariz.

Laulauga Tausaga, senior, discus, Spring Valley, Calif.

Karayme Bartley, junior, 200-meters, 4x100, 4x400

Collin Hofacker, junior, 4x100, Freedom, Wis.

Antonio Woodard, junior, 200-meters, 4x100, 4x400, Ranch Cucamonga, Calif.