BY JAKE KRZECZOWSKI | FEBRUARY 24, 2009 7:29 AM
In 2008, the Iowa women’s track and field team had four All-Americans. Coming into this season, only one of those four, senior Racheal Marchand, returned.
The makeup of this year’s team is much different. Losing that much talent to graduation can be devastating for a team to handle, but luckily for Iowa, it has a solid group of underclassmen to lead the way for the next few years.
In previous seasons, freshmen and sophomores have not had as much asked of them, but this year’s crop of youth hasn’t felt any added pressure.
“We have an absolutely great staff of coaches who don’t put that much pressure on us,” Iowa sophomore Bethany Praska said.
The lack of pressure and chance to compete more often has allowed the women to blossom on the track. Nowhere else is this more evident than in the middle- and long-distance events, home of the lone all-American, Marchand.
In most meets this year, Iowa’s top finishers in those events have been Marchand, followed by a swarm of young Hawkeyes not far behind. Seniors such as Marchand have gone out of their way to help the younger women in their first couple years on the team.
When Karessa Farley got hurt during her freshman year, she turned to the older women for help.
“They have been very supportive and were great in helping me to get back to the track,” said Farley, now a sophomore.
The support doesn’t stop there. Praska spoke of a “mothering” attitude around the team in which each group of upperclassmen takes care of those below them.
“If you get to a meet and are a little nervous, they will sit you down and talk to you to get rid of that fear,” Praska said about the older girls.
That is a major asset for a freshman such as Betsy Flood, who describes herself as a very nervous person by nature before a competition.
This is the same Flood that Iowa head coach Layne Anderson describes as having “the talent and level of commitment to be an All-American.”
She’s not the only one the coach feels that way about. The feeling on the team is the freshman and sophomore classes can be compared with those containing former All-Americans Kineke Alexander and Meghan Armstrong.
“They’ve come in, and they’re at about the same level,” Anderson said.
Along with Praska, Farley, and Flood are other standouts — including freshmen Mckenzie Melander and Nicole Erickson and sophomores Tiffany Hendricks and Amanda and Lauren Hardesty.
The group has come together through the bonding of dinners out and long trips on the road. This team, however, is even closer. Many of the members are neighbors, and Flood even said she doesn’t have many friends who aren’t on the team.
The philosophy of the coaches paired with the general demeanor of the team has produced an atmosphere in which the young members of the team can prosper.
“We all know that we don’t have to compete like freshman and sophomores.” Praska said, “We can step up and compete with juniors and seniors at any school.”
That confidence permeates graduation years.
“I feel that there is a lot of potential in everyone, we can do big things together,” Flood said.
This weekend’s Big Ten championships in Bloomington, Ind., will be another chance for Flood, Praska, Farley, and the rest to try to put their names next to Alexander, Armstrong, Marchand, and all the rest of the great Hawkeye runners to come through Iowa.