Dec. 6, 2013
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Finals are approaching on the University of Iowa campus -- both athletically and academically.
Members of the UI women's track and field team escape for winter break after term papers, presentations and exams come due Dec. 16, but when they return, head coach Layne Anderson wants the Hawkeyes to maintain a finals mentality.
"I think we have the best overall track and field group since I've been here," said Anderson, who has been at the helm of the Hawkeyes since 2008. "We've had good teams in the past, but it has been on the backs of four or five people. We now have 15 girls that are capable of reaching the finals, some in multiple events, and compete for Big Ten titles."
This year's group is young -- and talented. It is also experienced -- and talented. It's a team loaded with runners, jumpers, and throwers -- and they're all talented.
A year ago, high jumper Khanisha Williams placed third at the Big Ten Championships. Her career best ranks third all-time at Iowa, and Anderson wants her to challenge the record book.
"She's ready to take the next step," said Anderson. "She's a junior with tremendous talent. Now it's time to go out and display it... compete for a title."
Anderson says horizontal jumpers Carisa Leacock and Zinnia Miller are also due for a breakthrough. Leacock placed fifth in the triple jump at the conference outdoor meet last season, and both Hawkeyes have long jump marks that rank among the best in program history.
"They're both healthy and all indications are they can be competitive at the conference level," said Anderson. "They had good falls, and they're ready for the next step."
Iowa qualified six throwers for the Big Ten outdoor finals in 2013, five of whom are returning.
"Last year was a breakout year for the women's throwers," said UI assistant coach Scott Cappos. "We were represented in the finals as well as any program in the conference, but we still need to take the next step to be a Big Ten power and national level program. Our goal is to maintain and improve what we've accomplished so far."
The position with perhaps the most potential is Iowa's sprint team. One year ago MonTayla Holder and Lake Kwaza were unproven freshmen. Fast forward to 2014, and they're title-contending sophomores.
"Not to put pressure on them, but I think both can compete for Big Ten titles and compete in the NCAA indoors," said Anderson. "They're both capable of breakout seasons, and they lead a group that is better than it has ever been. We have never had a stronger combination of sprinters. It's exciting to see these kids compete."
Anderson hopes the distance group benefits from the return of Lisa Gordon and the debut of Katarina Trost.
"Katarina didn't run in cross country, and Lisa is recovering from injury," said Anderson. "We are going to need both to be competitive because we need to be ready in all events on the track.
"Overall we're optimistic. We have some outstanding athletes in our program, and we need to have our best kids out there and healthy. It's a nice blend of youth and talent. Now we need some break out seasons -- that's the challenge."
Iowa opens the season Saturday at 4:30 p.m. (CT) hosting the annual intrasquad meet. The regular season begins Jan. 18, when the Hawkeyes host Iowa State, Drake, and Northern Iowa in the Big Four Invitational. Admission to both events is free.