Iowa track and field ready for NCAA Championships

When he met with reporters on June 2, Iowa director of track and field Joey Woody said one of his goals has always been to consistently take a large group of qualifiers to the NCAA Championships each year.

This week, Woody accomplished that feat.

“We’re taking a big flight and we’re gonna have a bus there,” Woody said. “I mean, that was my goal and expectation when I took over as the head coach, to come to the national meet and have a bus picking us up at the airport.”

That plane and bus, destined for Eugene, Oregon, will have 16 Iowa athletes on it — 12 men and four women. The 16 qualifiers will begin action Wednesday.

The 12 men’s qualifiers advanced in a combined seven individual events and both relays.

Sophomore Austin West qualified in the decathlon, junior James Carter Jr. qualified for both the long jump and triple jump, senior Nik Curtiss advanced in the shot put, sophomore Jordan Johnson qualified in the discus, and senior Josh Braverman and junior Gratt Reed each punched Tickets for the 110-meter hurdles. Junior Julien Gillum advanced in the 400 meter hurdles.

Reed will be joined by sophomores Austin Kresley and Khullen Jefferson, and freshman Kalil Johnson in the 4×100-meter relay. West will team up with Gillum, and sophomores Armando Bryson, and Spencer Grudgel in the 4×400-meter relay.

2022 will mark the ninth consecutive year that Iowa will advance a team to nationals in the 4×100-meter relay and the fifth straight season the Hawkeyes will be in the 4×400-meter relay at the NCAA Championships.

The women’s team will be represented in four events. Sophomore LaSarah Hargrove will run in three of those races.

Hargrove’s trifecta

On May 29, in what Woody called “one of the best all-time performances in Iowa track and field history,” in a release, Hargrove advanced to the NCAA Championships in both the 100-meter and 200-meter dash, and as the first leg of the 4×100 meter relay.

Hargrove, from Tampa, Florida, had never qualified for the NCAA Championships before.

“I definitely think I’ve progressed a lot physically and also mentally,” Hargrove said. “When I first came here, I just mentally wasn’t there, but I feel like I’ve changed a lot of my mindsets and also eating habits and sleeping habits and just overall become a harder worker.”

To advance to the national meet, Hargrove posted wind-aided times of 11.05 in the 100-meter dash and 22.58 in the 200-meter dash. She also helped the 4×100-meter relay team to a school record time of 43.69.

“It was really an accumulation of the days,” Woody said of Hargrove’s performance at the regional meet. “Being able to qualify in both the 100 and 200 on day one, but then being able to come back and execute each race individually and not get too focused on how much it was gonna take to get through in all those events.

“She just focused on one race at a time,” Woody continued. I think the 4×100 really got the energy going for the women’s team and so she built off of that. But I think it was just really her believing and trusting that she can compete at this level in both those events. I think she’s always had good confidence in the 200 but now she’s got a lot more confidence in her 100. She’s one of the best in the country and she’s out there to prove it.”

Hargrove led off the relay squad where she teamed up with freshman Lia Love, sophomore Paige Magee, and senior Erin Dowd.

Hargrove and Love are the only true sprinters on that list.

“I think if you were to put this on paper and just be like, you have two short sprinters and then two 400 hurdlers running your 4×100, you might think you have like a walk in the park,” Magee said. “It’s not a place that I thought I’d find myself, but it’s been so much fun.”

The quartet, in just a few races together, has clicked. The team set the school mark in just its third event together.

Magee says the relay is only getting faster.

“I think we’ve been getting better every time we practice,” Magee said. “Obviously, there are days that we’re going to be physically a little more worked than others. But, I mean, we’ve all had the chance to get our recovery in and really focus on what we need to do in each of our roles. I feel like we all have been doing a good job of executing and figuring out what we can do to bring us as a team to the next level.”

For Magee and Dowd, the 4×100-meter relay won’t be the only time they see the Eugene track as they both qualified for the 400-meter hurdles, too. But the road wasn’t easy for either of them.

Magee and Dowd overcome adversity

On their way to qualifying for the 2022 NCAA Championships, Magee and Dowd had to battle injuries, both of which required surgery.

For almost all of her first collegiate season in 2021, Magee ran with an injured quad, and before the 2021 Outdoor Big Ten Championships, she realized it was torn.

She finished out the season and had surgery in July of 2021.

After the surgery, Magee wondered if she would ever get back to the level she achieved during the 2021 indoor season when she was crowned a Big Ten Champion in the 60-meter hurdles.

“I was told how hard the physical recovery would be coming back from an injury, but I feel like I never heard a lot about the mental recovery,” Magee said. “I did have a high functioning injury, I finished out both seasons last year. But I was still experiencing lows in January and February of this year. Knowing what I can do and knowing what I’m capable of mentally and then being levels below physically is just a hard hard thing to balance.”

Magee said that after what she’s experienced in the last year, the NCAA Championships are icing on the cake.

“I didn’t expect any of this for me,” Magee said. “I shocked myself when I crossed the finish line. It was it’s been a full circle season for me and I think that, no matter how it ends, it’ll end better than I expected.”

Dowd, a sixth-year senior who competed for Western Michigan for her first four years of college before coming to Iowa after the 2020 season, tore her plantar fascia in October of 2020 and was forced to miss the entire season.

Dowd had surgery in March of 2021 to repair the injury after other procedures hadn’t led to a full recovery.

“I don’t think a lot of people realize how difficult it is to be an injured athlete because you set so many expectations for yourself and it’s part of your identity to be a functional athlete and to be dedicated to your sport,” Dowd said . “When you can’t do that and be part of the team environment that you rely on for your social network, sometimes you don’t feel like yourself anymore, and it can be really isolating. But on the other hand, the work that we put in to overcome injuries sometimes can take us to new levels once we start competing.”

Dowd, like Magee, said the regional and national meets are just gravy at this point in her career. Over the course of her injury, doctors and others wondered if she’d ever be able to compete again.

“I ended up knowing making a complete recovery despite how nobody if I was going to be able to run again, ever. I’m really excited just to be here on the track again, let alone what I can experience with Paige and our other qualifiers for regionals and nationals.”