DES MOINES — The Iowa women’s sprint medley team was finished with its interviews in the bowels of Drake Stadium, but they didn’t move toward the door. Instead their eyes were transfixed by the television screen showing fellow Hawkeye Erik Sowinski bringing home the men’s medley to victory.
“Fantastic,” women’s anchor Bethany Praska said.
It was quite a start to the final day of the Relays for the Iowa women and men. The women’s team of Erin Jones, Tiffany Hendricks, Ashley Liverpool and Praska won the event in 3 minutes, 48.63 seconds, beating Arkansas and Baylor, among others. It was Iowa’s first victory in the 22 years in which the event has been contested.
“I think it represents that Iowa shouldn’t be underestimated,” Praska said. “We’ve never run it before, but putting together a lot of strong individual talent, we’re that much better in the relays.”
“We are really building our program,” Hendricks said. “We may not have won it before, but I think it’s a good starting point. You can expect to see some more flags for the University of Iowa.”
Praska’s strong anchor was clocked in 2:05.2.
“The first three legs set me up perfectly,” Praska said. “I was expecting to be in a good spot, so I just had to have patience and pull Arkansas in. It was kind of just a waiting game and going out and taking a chance and seeing where it set us up in the last home stretch.”
“Bethany is a fantastic athlete,” Hendricks said. “We knew that wherever we were she’d be able to catch them. She has strength and endurance and motivation.”
Praska said it helped that she had confidence in her training and in the competition she’s had this year, which helped her maintain her patience.
Liverpool said all four were confident they could contend.
“We came in, and we have really good legs, good times in each of the legs, so we were really confident coming in,” she said.
This was the first time this group had run together, but three of them run in the 4×100 and three run in the 4×400 so they are all familiar with each other in those events. But the 4×200 handoffs are different and that may have contributed to a slower connection between Jones and Hendricks.
“We don’t ever really run the 4×2,” Hendricks said. “The first time we’ve ever practiced that handoff was yesterday. We worked out a few kinks but when you get down to it and there’s the adrenaline and everything, she might have been coming in a little more tired, but we got it.”
Praska, Hendricks and Liverpool ran on the 4×400 team at the very end of the meet and placed fourth.
The men’s sprint medley team of Zeke Sayon, Justin Austin, Steven Willey and Sowinski won in 3:16.18, more than two seconds ahead of Missouri. This was the third time the Iowa men have won the sprint medley relay. The Hawkeyes previously won in 1952 and 1956.
Sowinski’s anchor was clocked at 1:46.9 and Willey’s 400 in 46.3.
“We wanted to prove it’s a Hawkeye State,” Sowinski said. “Iowa sweeps the sprint medleys. You could hear all the Hawkeye fans coming down to the finish line. It just made it that much easier to kick it there.”
“It’s great to start the day with a win,” Austin said. “You carry momentum the rest of the day.”
Sowinski said the group expected to contend.
“That’s what we were planning for the whole year,” he said. “Bringing in Justin, he’s extremely talented. Steven, defending Big Ten champ in the 400, and Zeke the Big Ten runner-up last year in the 100. We threw a good group together. With Baylor we knew it would be tough competition.”
Willey, a senior and former walk-on, really appreciated the victory.
“This is my first time. I never won one in high school, and we were runner-up at Drake last year,” he said. “I knew if I got the baton to Erik in the lead we’d be good.”
Iowa’s 4×400 team of Willey, Ethan Holmes, Sowinski and Chris Barton finished second to Baylor in the meet’s final event of the day. The Hawkeyes time was 3:07.23 and the Bears finished in 3:05.01.