Men’s track heads to Big Ten championships


John Hickey has accomplished a lot in his four years as a varsity thrower for the Iowa men’s track and field team.

Hickey holds the school record in the shot put after breaking Jeremy Allen’s 8-year-old mark last February. He has been the Big Ten shot put champion twice in his career. The Piermont, N.Y., native won the Big Ten outdoor title as a junior and the indoor title as a sophomore, then finished as the runner-up earlier this season at the Big Ten indoor meet.

But the senior said he is having “mixed emotions” about his final crack at claiming the conference shot-put crown at the Big Ten outdoor championships in Columbus, Ohio.

“I haven’t really thought much about it,” Hickey said. “But it’s always been in the back of that this is my last shot to, you know, make my mark on the Big Ten. I’m just trying to stay calm and do what I know how to do.”

Standing between Hickey and his goal of claiming a third individual title is Minnesota’s Aaron Studt. Studt was the 2009 Big Ten indoor champion, as well as the 2009 Drake Relays champion.

Still, Hickey knows from experience he can beat the Golden Gophers’ big man.

“I’m not really going in there thinking I’m going to have to beat him,” Hickey said. “He’s going to have to beat me. I’m going to perform to the best of my ability, and he’s going to have to be on top of his game if he wants to walk home champion.

“I have no worries about winning or losing. I’m just going to go in there and make everyone beat me.”

Hickey, however, is just one of a handful of Hawkeye seniors looking to add some Big Ten hardware to their trophy cases for the last time in their careers. Ryan Kelly is looking to defend his Big Ten outdoor high jump title from a year ago. A.J. Curtis will also hope to nab some hardware in both the shot put and the discus, where his best throw in each event ranks fourth in the Big Ten.

Other Iowa athletes are also in the hunt for individual titles. Junior Ray Varner will be the front-runner in the 400-meter hurdles for the Hawkeyes.

The Wadsorth, Ill., native ran a 51.00 at the John McDonnell Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark., which ranks third in the NCAA Midwest Region and 18th in the nation. Varner, who was named Big Ten Track Athlete of the Week April 8, is also a member of Iowa’s 4×400-meter relay team of sophomores Steven Willey and Chris Barton and freshman Erik Sowinski that qualified for the regional meet and ranks third in the Big Ten with a season-best time of 3:08.81.

“Ray Varner has been a contender in the [400-meter] hurdles and has been a national qualifier,” head coach Larry Wieczorek said.

With several competitors in the running for individual titles as well as a strong stable of relay teams, Wieczorek said the Hawkeyes should also be in the thick of the team competition.

“Minnesota, unless something unforeseen happens, they look to be just away from everybody else,” Wieczorek said. “But after that, we have about 83 points on paper and that puts us fifth — only maybe 10 points from third and also not too far from the other end of the spectrum either. It seems to be a real balanced Big Ten championship.

“I think we’re right in the thick of it for an upper-division finish.”

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