Looking back at Iowa track’s historic outdoor season

With a conference championship and a national champion, Iowa track and field has made a statement with one of the greatest seasons in program history.


Ben Allan Smith

Iowa sophomore Laulauga Tausaga attempts a discus throw during the 19th annual Musco Twilight meet at the Francis X. Cretzmeyer Track in Iowa City on Thursday, April 12. Tausaga finished first in the event with a distance of 56.69 meters.

Robert Read, Sports Reporter

Iowa track and field has been a bit of an outlier this outdoor season. The coaches’ rankings are filled up and down with warm-weather schools from Texas, California, and Florida.

The sport is perceived to be dominated by the South and Southwest, which makes what the Hawkeyes have done this season all the more impressive considering Iowa City was home to what seemed to be an everlasting winter.

The Iowa men and women did not let the notion about geographical area bother them, and they reached highs in the polls of No. 10 and No. 15, respectively.

The beginning of the season had Iowa traveling to these warm states while its home was still thawing and putting on display of why it is a program to be reckoned with.

The most notable meet of Iowa’s early season was the Florida Relays, in which the Iowa men’s 4×400-meter relay won the competition against some of the best relay programs in the nation. It was an early sign that the Hawkeyes could go toe-to-toe against any team in the nation, especially in that event.

The relay squad had finished near the top of the leaderboard at the Florida Relays over the past couple of years but had not yet pulled out a win. That changed this season with a then-school-record performance.

As the season progressed, so did the performances.

Some of the oldest records in program history fell this season as both the Hawkeye men and women put up historic numbers.

Nathan Mylenek broke a 63-year-old record in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, the longest standing record Iowa had. Deacon Jones had held the record since 1956, and Mylenek broke it by nearly 10 seconds.

On the women’s side, the 4×800-meter relay broke a 32-year-old school mark at the Drake Relays en route to the women winning their first Hy-Vee Cup. The squad absolutely crushed the record by nearly 15 seconds.

Heading into the Big Ten Outdoor Championships at Creztmeyer Track, an event that had been circled on the calendar since it was scheduled, the Hawkeyes had expectations through the roof.

And all things considered, both the men and the women met — and possibly even exceeded — those lofty expectations.

The men won their first conference championship since 2011 — which was also the last time Big Tens were hosted by Iowa — and the women finished third, tied for the best finish in school history.

RELATED: Tausaga surges to championship season

Iowa had three athletes and one relay win Big Ten championships on the way to the historic team finishes.

Laulauga Tausaga won the conference crown in the discus, her third career Big Ten championship.

Mar’Yea Harris took home the 400-meters title and anchored the 4×400 conference-champion relay. Harris finished his Iowa career as a six-time Big Ten champion.

Rounding out the conference champions was Chris Douglas, who in his final Big Ten meet brought home his first conference title, winning the 400-meter hurdles as an underdog.

The Hawkeyes’ performances throughout the season and at the Big Tens earned two of its biggest names recognition near the end of the season. Tausaga and Director of Track and Field Joey Woody earned conference and regional honors as Field Athlete of the Year and Coach of the Year, respectively.

The success Iowa enjoyed on the track in postseason competition came with a bittersweet taste.

Volunteer assistant coach and Iowa City track legend John Raffensperger died in late April. The Hawkeyes wore patches reading “Raff” on their uniforms throughout the rest of the season as a tribute to his contributions to the program and the many athletes and coaches he meant so much to.

Most notably, when Tausaga became Iowa’s 14th national champion in program history after firing a personal best mark in the discus at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, she took the victors’ podium and quietly pointed to Raffensperger’s name on her uniform in a beautiful moment of tribute.

Tausaga becoming a national champion was the ending to one of the greatest seasons Iowa track and field has ever seen.

The program is on a new level right now, and it has the attention of the track and field community. The Hawkeyes proved themselves as a program to be reckoned with over the course of this outdoor season and will return next season with even higher expectations.

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