On the brink of greatness


Illustration by Zebedia Wahls

Just wait.

They aren’t there yet. But they will be.

Three athletes on the Iowa men’s track team will try to close the gap between being members of a good team and being members of an elite team.

James Harrington, Vinnie Saucer Jr, and Reno Tuufuli each bring something unique to the Hawkeyes.

Out of the trio, the newest on the scene is Tuufuli. The redshirt freshman is a big guy leaving big impressions in arguably the best throwing conference in the country.

The other two, Harrington and Saucer, lead a blistering sprint squad that is one of Iowa’s main reasons for success.

“Sprinters expect to win, and that’s what makes them sprinters,” Iowa Director of Track and Field Joey Woody said. “They all have not overly excessive egos — they’re all kidding each other and jiving each other in practice — but that’s what makes our group so good.”

The accolades don’t just pour in locally, either.

Coaches such as Arkansas’ Chris Bucknam, 2013 National Coach of the Year and 12-time SEC Coach of the Year, regard Iowa as a team to look out for in the near future.

It’s still early in the season — Iowa just competed in its outdoor season-opener— but things are looking bright for the Hawkeyes.

Harrington and Saucer have been here before. The two have achieved a measure of success in the Big Ten, which put them on the national radar.

The duo are two of the top sprinters in the Big Ten, but they are not quite at the level for a top finish in the national championship. Yet.

Harrington dazzled observers in the intrasquad meet but his indoor season was cut short because of a suspension for violating team rules. But his senior outdoor season could be one to remember.

“[We can] be Big Ten champions as a team,” he said. “I want to qualify for NCAAs in the 100, 200, and the 4×100, and I want to win Big Tens in the 4×100 and 100s,” he said.

Junior Saucer also believes it could be a productive season for the Hawkeyes. Staying healthy is a priority for both athletes.

The injury bug has stung both sprinters during their careers, most recently with Saucer. A nagging hamstring injury slowed his development until the conference championships, in which he won the 60 meters.

“The focus is on stretching more after practice,” said Saucer, noting that communicating with his coach about the state of his legs is critical.

While the other two come into the season with previous accolades, Tuufuli is an underrated freshman who aims to make a name for himself in the midst of some tough competition in the throwing department.

The 6-3 Las Vegas native only competed in a handful of meets this past indoor season. And yet, going up against some of the premier athletes in the nation, he didn’t back down.

“It’s motivating because I want to beat them, and that’s all I think about,” he said.

After elevating himself to the fifth-best freshman thrower in the nation, Tuufuli went on to toss 60-9.75 at the Big Ten indoor championships in the shot put. That mark added him to the all-time Hawkeyes list at sixth place.

“The Big Ten is the best throws conference in the country, and to be able to make the finals in any of the throwing events is impressive as a redshirt freshman, to get in there and mix it up,” Woody said.

Unlike the underestimated Tuufuli, Saucer came into the 2015 outdoor conference championships leading his main event, the 100 meters. After failing to maintain the top spot, he learned not to get ahead of himself.

“I can’t take anything for granted,” he said. “I came in with the fastest 100. I felt like I got too caught up in that and didn’t take it as seriously. I barely made it into the finals, and that kind of woke me up.”

This season, he’s taking things slower but still remains excited about the 100 — his favorite race.

“I feel like that’s my best race,” he said. “I feel like it’s the perfect length for my legs.”

Saucer enters the outdoor season as the top sprinter in Woody’s group. The coach says that while Saucer is the reigning Big Ten champion, the outdoor sprints are up for grabs.

Harrington stands as the main challenger. Despite his unorthodox running style, the senior’s speed speaks for itself. The style is hard to describe. He’s a tall guy who possesses a fluid running form.

“He’s extremely elastic. He’s one of those guys who doesn’t look like he’s running fast, but he is,” Woody said. “When you look at the watch, sometimes it amazes you how fast he’s running.”

In Iowa’s first outdoor meet of the season, March 18 and 19 at the Baldy Castillo Invitational, Harrington was a member of the 400-meter relay that climbed to seventh in Hawkeye history. Tuufuli competed in the shot put, throwing 56.17 feet and finished fifth. Saucer did not compete, but Woody believes once they insert him into the sprint-relay lineup, even better results will pour in.

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