By Pat Harty
IOWA CITY, Iowa – Joey Woody, with help and support from a lot of people, is turning the Iowa men’s track and field program into a Big Ten power.
That seems fair to say at this point since the Iowa men’s team on Sunday won its third Big Ten title since the spring of 2019.
The Iowa men were considered the team to beat heading into this weekend’s Big Ten outdoor championships in Champaign, Ill., and they lived up to the hype in impressive fashion by cruising to the team title.
Sunday’s team title came about three months after the Iowa men won the 2021 Big Ten indoor title, and almost exactly two years after the Iowa men won the 2019 Big Ten outdoor title in Iowa City.
That’s three Big Ten titles in two years, and it proves that Woody has something special brewing in Iowa City, which is also his hometown.
“Coming from the indoor championship we were fortunate to have a lot of great seniors that came back just for this opportunity,” Woody said Sunday. “They wanted to be a part of this program and a part of this team and to go out and win this championship. We had a lot of great contributors.”
It takes a lot of great contributors to win a team title by 33 points, as was the case with the Iowa men on Sunday. Iowa finished with 127.5 points, besting second-place Michigan by 33 points.
Iowa’s dominance came during a season in which the Covid-19 global pandemic has been a constant threat and distraction. The student-athletes have had to sacrifice more than usual just to stay available for competition, and it’s been an emotional grind.
Iowa didn’t have a chance to win a Big Ten outdoor title in 2020 because the event was canceled due to the outbreak of the global pandemic.
Woody thanked the UI athletic administration for helping his student-athletes stay the course throughout the 2021 season.
“The administration did a tremendous job allowing us the opportunity to keep as much normalcy as possible in this crazy time and just to have access to our athletes during the fall and during the offseason,” Woody said. “Once we worked through the testing protocols and everything, we had that one break, but I know a lot of teams that were shut down for a long time.
“I think that paid off huge dividends, to be able to be around our athletes and have as much contact as we have with our student athletes the entire season, that’s where we were able to get to where we’re at this weekend with another title; doing it for the University as a whole and extremely thankful just for the opportunity. This definitely couldn’t have happened when you look at where we were a year ago and didn’t have the opportunity to be here. We owe a lot to our administration.”
The Iowa women finished fourth in the team standings with 75 points. The Hawkeye men and women also combined for 19 Big Ten Medals.
The women were led by Laulauga Tausaga’s historical performance. Tausaga started off the day for the Hawkeyes bringing home gold in the discus throw with a season’s best mark of 62.09 meters. She became the first Hawkeye in program history to win four outdoor Big Ten titles.
“Lagi is the ultimate competitor,” Woody said. “I don’t know too many people that can compete like she does. Every time she steps in the ring, she has a chance to win in the shot put, discus, hammer, weight throw, whatever it is. She is just a tremendous athlete and unbelievable competitor. To be able to come in here and win four-straight years when the target is on your back says a lot about your character. She has big goals. She expects to be a national champ again and repeat there. She expects to make the Olympic team and make the Olympic final and make the podium. She is gunning for a medal and I think she has a really good shot to do that.”
Woody, a former star hurdler for Northern Iowa, has worked hard to build quality depth in both programs, and now that work is paying huge dividends. The Iowa men put itself in position to win the team title on Sunday by performing well on Friday and Saturday.
“It’s a three-day championship, so we had to solidify our finalists the first two days,” Woody said. “We had a really good second day and that got me feeling good going into the final championship day when we need them, and they did a tremendous job every single day.
“All I told them today is we just have to go out and focus on ourselves and compete for each other. Compete and focus on ourselves. If we do that, we are going to be very happy at the end of the day and they definitely did that today.”
Woody’s impact has been far-reaching, but his work with the hurdlers has really stood out. And it makes sense, considering Woody’s success as a hurdler. He won the NCAA title in the 400 meter hurdles for Northern Iowa in 1997.
And now he’s building winners at Iowa.
Iowa’s Jaylan McConico blew away the field in the 110-meter hurdle final on Sunday, blazing to a time of 13.23 seconds, which is second in the NCAA this season and No. 12 all-time.
Iowa’s 2019 Big Ten outdoor title was highly emotional, partly because it was the first championship under Woody, and because it happened shortly after the death of John Raffensperger, who had worked for Woody as a volunteer assistant coach. Raffensperger also coached Woody in track and field at Iowa City High School, and they shared a special bond.
“Every one of them is emotional,” Woody said. “The last one with Coach Raff passing away and everything was really special, and being able to that at home meant a lot.
“This is really special because of our seniors. Our fifth and sixth year seniors to come back and be a part of this championship program, and everything they have done since they stepped on campus five or six years ago.”
Former Iowa men’s track and field coach Larry Wieczorek also deserves some credit for the current success because he hired Woody as an assistant coach, and also because Wieczorek led the Iowa men to the Big Ten outdoor title in 2011.
There already was a solid foundation when Woody was named UI director of track and field/cross country in 2014. Woody wanted to build on what Wieczorek had accomplished, and winning three Big Ten title in two years is mission accomplished, although, Woody is far from satisfied.
Woody’s ultimate goal is turn Iowa into a national power.
“We still have a lot of things on the horizon,” Woody said. “We have the NCAA first round in two weeks down at Texas A&M. In four weeks we have the NCAA finals, we have to get there. And then we have the Olympic Trials, so we have a long season ahead of us.
“You look at the next weekly rankings, we’re going to be ranked really high based on the performances we put up this weekend. We are in a good spot going into the NCAA postseason. We just have to keep our heads straight and get our athletes to the start line and feeling good.”