‘Home’ advantage may give men the edge they need

Nate Sandall

The ISU men’s track and field team will have the chance to compete in front of an Iowa crowd as it travels to Des Moines for the 99th Drake Relays. In what is arguably one of the biggest track events in the country, Cyclone athletes will compete among nearly 8,000 of the best high school and collegiate athletes in the country.

As the team enters Drake Stadium this weekend, a capacity crowd of hometown fans will be there to greet them. For Jayden Russ, a senior distance runner from Brisbane, Australia, the atmosphere inside the stadium is what makes the Relays such a unique event.

“It’s like no other meet I’ve been to, compared to racing back home or anywhere in America,” Russ said. “Getting to run in front of that many people in such high-quality competition – you rarely get to do that.”

Head coach Corey Ihmels said running in front of the home crowd may give the team a slight advantage.

“It’s not hard to get out and run to the best of your ability when you walk through that stadium and it’s full and you’re wearing an Iowa State jersey – people are going to cheer for you,” Ihmels said.

Throughout high school, the chance to run in the Drake relays is the goal of many Iowa track and field athletes. For some ISU athletes who grew up in Iowa, the Drake Relays is a homecoming of sorts, giving runners the chance to run in front of friends and family.

“I like racing Drake, because I’ve been racing there since high school and all family and friends are there,” said Kiel Uhl, who is a native of Prole. “I kinda feel like it’s my home track because I raced on it so many times in high school.”

The junior, along with several other distance runners, will kick off the Relays on Thursday evening with a number of distance events. After placing sixth in the 5,000-meter run last year, Uhl returns looking to improve upon that finish.

“Last year. I was pretty unhealthy and I actually only trained a couple of weeks before that race,” the junior said. “At this point, I’m going out and trying to win races. I think I’m back to that level, and hopefully that’s the trend.”

Guor Majak will run alongside Uhl in the 5,000. Uhl edged out the sophomore at last year’s event, resulting in a seventh-place finish for Majak.

Also competing on Thursday will be freshman Clayton Carper in the 10,000-meter run, as well as junior Kevin Born and freshman Hillary Bor in the 1,500.

Like Uhl, Russ’ goal is have better results this season as he competes for the second time in the Relays’ 3,000-meter steeplechase. After falling on the last lap of the event last year, Russ ended up in a disappointing 10th place.

“Last year didn’t go as I had planned,” Russ said. “Definitely going to try and avoid that this year. I think I’m in good enough shape to contend for the win.”

In what will be his last time running in the Drake Relays as a Cyclone, Russ is running in the 4-by-1600-meter relay. The squad hopes to follow its impressive performance from last year’s Relays, when Russ, Born, Johnny Reel and Brandon Rooney took third place.

Russ believes they can once again finish in the top half of the event.

“I think we have another strong team, and hopefully we can be in the top two places this year and really contend to win,” he said.

Competing in his first Relays as a Cyclone, Luke Pinkelman is participating in the shot put on Friday as the team’s only thrower at the meet. The freshman from Cozad, Neb., is coming off a pair of victories earned in the first part of the outdoor season, including a first-place finish at last weekend’s Beach Invitational in Long Beach, Calif.

The athletes are not the only members of the team experiencing the Drake Relays for the first time. Coming to Iowa State from Arizona, first-year sprint coach Ronnie Williams has never had the chance to experience the Drake Relays.

“I’ve been lucky enough to run all over the world, but this will be my first time actually at the Drake Relays,” Williams said. “It’s gonna be interesting for me and it’s gonna be a new experience.”

Due to Jared Lewis’ injured hamstring, the Cyclones are only sending two sprinters – Derron Montgomery and James Galvan – instead of their usual number of sprinters and sprint relay teams. Montgomery will run the 400-meter leg on the distance medley, which takes place on Saturday. Galvan will join Montgomery in the distance medley and run in the 4-by-800-meter relay.

“This is actually one of the first meets where I can run the 4-by-800,” said Galvan, who will be running in the Drake Relays for the first time. “It is one of my favorite relays, because they don’t do it very often.”

Overall, Ihmels believes the team will be ready to go out and compete as soon as the first event gets under way this weekend.

“We’re going to get in there and battle,” Ihmels said. “Obviously, there’s going be teams from all over the country that are there, so it should be exciting to watch. I think we will be in the mix.”