Iowa thrower Laulauga Tausaga to finish record-breaking Hawkeye career next outdoor season

After the COVID-19 pandemic cut her senior season short, the reigning NCAA discus champion is set to return for a final outdoor season next year.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa’s Laulauga Tausaga winds up to throw during the women’s shot put at the 2019 Drake Relays in Des Moines, IA, on Friday, April 26, 2019. Tausaga earned 2nd with a distance of 16.36m.

Robert Read, Sports Editor

Between breaking records and winning events, Iowa thrower Laulauga Tausaga has developed a ritual.

Ahead of every meet, Tausaga and Iowa throws coach Eric Werskey find a local sandwich shop to eat at. March 12 — the day before the 2020 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships, in Albuquerque, New Mexico — Tausaga had just finished a pre-meet lifting session, and she and Werskey were in their latest sandwich shop.

Then, they both got a message.

“While we were sitting down at this sandwich shop, he told me to look down at my phone,” Tausaga said. “And I was wondering why he was being so vague. I see [Director of Track and Field Joey Woody] was like, ‘Everybody please report back to the hotel. We will not be participating in the NCAA Indoor National Championships.’”

To curtail the spread of COVID-19, the Big Ten Conference announced that its teams would not be participating in NCAA events and that spring sports had been canceled.

“I kind of fell apart in public — which is something very rare for me to do,” Tausaga said. “The drive back to the hotel for that team meeting was heartbreaking.”

The rest of the outdoor season was set up to be a big one for Tausaga. The Spring Valley, California, native was going for her fourth Big Ten title in the discus and was defending her NCAA title in the same event.

Tausaga already owns the Iowa records for the indoor shot put and weight throw and the outdoor shot put, discus, and hammer throw. This outdoor season was an opportunity to make even more additions into the Hawkeye record book.

That’s not something that is easily forgotten.

“I have dates in my phone when we would leave here or when we would leave,” Tausaga said. “So I would get notifications or someone would bring up to me that it’s a weekend we’re supposed to be somewhere, and it hits you.

“When you’re in season, everything moves so fast. And now these are like the longest months I’ve ever had in my life. It’s like every constant minute of thinking, ‘Wow, Drake Relays were that week.’”

After the initial shock of the unprecedented set of cancellations, Tausaga and her teammates’ thoughts shifted to eligibility.

The NCAA announced March 30 that it would be granting spring-sport athletes another year of eligibility, although that was not the end of the discussion. Wisconsin announced that it would not be bringing its spring-sport seniors back despite the NCAA’s ruling.

However, Iowa will welcome senior spring-sport athletes back next season. Tausaga said that track and field seniors will receive the same amount of scholarship compensation next season as they did this season.

“That came as a shock,” Tausaga said. “You’re sitting there and you may have to pay more out of pocket than you were already going to. It’s terrifying, because that just puts more strain on me. Am I going to have to get a job, how am I going to balance all of these things with track and field? For them to find a way to make the budget work is amazing.”

Tausaga is currently going to different tracks around Iowa City in an effort to work out now that the Hawkeye facilities are closed. She said finding good discus and shot put rings is tough under the circumstances, but she is focusing on cardio and some other workouts that her coaches are providing.

Unlike some other senior athletes that were impacted by cancellations, Tausaga was not originally planning to graduate at the end of this spring semester due to a busy season last spring. She is set to graduate in the fall of 2020 and suit up in the Black and Gold for a final outdoor season next year.

After that, her eyes will be on the now-2021 Tokyo Olympic Games.

“You don’t look at the World Championships. You look at the small things first,” Tausaga said. “You look at the things that are most important, and that’s that I am a college athlete. We have to focus on getting a mark so I can get to regionals, try to do great at Big Tens, get into NCAAs.

“As soon as NCAAs come to an end…I now have to carry myself more than just a college student, but as someone who is good enough to hang out with the big girls.”

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