Takeaways: A hopeful track and field season comes to an end

Senior Edwin Kurgat and then-redshirt junior Thomas Pollard give each other a hug after finishing in first and second in the men’s 3,000-meter run at the 2020 Big 12 Indoor Track and Field Championships.

Adarsh Tamma

Famed sportscaster Howard Cosell once said, “Sports is the toy department of human life.”

We often turn to the world of sports for escape from the “real” world, with track and field being no different. Despite the sudden end to the season due to growing concerns from coronavirus, the Iowa State track and field program can look back on 2020 as a year of growth across the board.

Women’s Team:

Starting off with the Cyclone women, it was a year full of personal bests for sophomore hurdler Katarina Vlahovic. The Surrey, British Columbia, native began the year strong at the Cyclone Open, posting a personal best time of 8.38 seconds in the 60-meter hurdles.

She would lower this mark three more times, and capped off the year with a third place finish at the Big 12 Championships and another career best of 8.30 seconds, which was the third fastest time in program history.

Fellow sophomore Kaylyn Hall placed seventh with a time of 8.37 seconds, good for the sixth fastest performance for the Iowa State women.

Elsewhere on the track, another sophomore, Zakiyah Amos, represented Iowa State primarily in the 400-meter and 600-yard races. The season for Amos commenced with a bang, as she ran a personal best in the 600 at the Cyclone Open, taking home the top spot with a time of 1:23.51.

She would carry this energy forward throughout the season, placing fourth at the Iowa State Classic with a time of 55.15 seconds in the 400-meter dash. The performance put Amos at fifth on the all-time leaderboard, and she ended her 2020 campaign with an eighth place finish at the conference meet in the 600-yard run.

In the distance events, the Cyclone women also broke personal and school records, as many athletes picked up from where they left off in the cross county season this past fall.

In the 1 mile, senior Larkin Chapman led all collegiate runners at the UW Invitational in Seattle to finish in 10th with a time of 4:43.16, which put her at eighth on the all-time leader board.

The Muscatine, Iowa, native closed out her Cyclone career by adding to her trophy case, taking home two medals on the track. She placed third in the 1,000-meter run and fifth in the distance medley relay.

Elsewhere, it was also a consistent outing for junior Cailie Logue. The former Kansas high school standout opened her track season with a strong showing at the Boston University Invitational.

Running in a field that included many of the same athletes who had competed at the cross country national championships a few weeks earlier, Logue stayed tough with the core of the field.

The Erie, Kansas, native finished 14th with a career best of 15:50.15. The time shot her all the way up to third in the Iowa State record book, only trailing former national champions Lisa Koll and Betsy Saina.

Logue’s run of success was not over however, as she entered the Big 12 Championships as the favorite to take home both the 3,000-meter and 5,000-meter titles. Over the course of two days, Logue’s patient, front-running style helped her earn her first conference indoor championships.

An added bonus was that Logue was not alone on the podium, as senior Abby Caldwell closed out her career in a Cyclone jersey by placing runner-up in both races.

Finally in the field events, the Cyclone women’s hopes were primarily led by junior thrower Keiara Williams.

At the Jimmy Grant Invitational in Iowa City in December, Williams joined the successful contingent of her fellow Cyclone teammates by placing first in the shot put with a best throw of 14.37 meters, over a meter ahead of second place. She made this result one better with a career best of 14.53 meters at the Iowa State Classic.

Over in the weight throw, Williams’ winning ways continued as she finished runner-up at the Cyclone Open with a best throw of 17.39 meters.

Rounding out her season at Big 12s, the Kansas City native saved her best for last as she threw 18.80 meters, cracking into the all-time top ten. Williams took home seventh in the weight throw while taking home sixth in the shot put.

She was joined on the weight throw podium by recent transfer Antonella Creazzola, who finished eighth with a best throw of 17.10 meters.

Sophomore Erika Furbeck can also look forward to 2021 after this year’s campaign.

The former Illinois high school champ became the eighth athlete to enter the Iowa State record books this year, when she finished second at the Texas Tech Invitational at the end of January.

Furbeck jumped Iowa State’s seventh-farthest mark at 6.20 meters, losing the top prize by just two centimeters to Texas A&M junior Taryn Milton.

Men’s Team:

On the Cyclone men’s squad, Iowa State captured its first conference indoor championship since 1994, and its first Big 12 title as well.

The Cyclones outlasted runner-up Texas Tech over the two day meet, with a majority of their points coming from their distance runners.

Since arriving to Ames seven years ago, Head Coach Martin Smith and Assistant Coach Jeremy Sudbury have worked to develop a program that could compete with the best teams in the conference. In 2020, the Cyclone men set five school records on the track, with a host of athletes breaking into record books.

The senior trio of Roshon Roomes, Daniel Nixon and Festus Lagat put on a historic display to begin their final collegiate seasons by competing at the Jimmy Grant Invitational in Iowa City.

The group of middle distance athletes blazed to a 1-2-3 finish in the 1,000-meter run, as all three kept the pace. Lagat cruised to victory in a school record time of 2:20.88. Roomes and Nixon followed their compatriot to finish with the second and third fastest times respectively in program history.

Lagat, Roomes and Nixon would again rewrite the Cyclone record books in the 800-meter run on their own track. The Cyclone Open saw the trio take the top three spots, as Lagat now completed the second fastest performance in Cyclone history with a finishing time of 1:47.50. Roomes and Nixon followed closely behind, clocking in at 1:47.74 and 1:48.58 respectively.

It all came to a head at last month’s conference meet at the Lied Recreation Center in Ames, as Nixon and Lagat first grabbed the spotlight in the distance medley relay (DMR).

Heading into the mile-long anchor leg, Roomes had restored the Cyclones’ lead before handing off to Lagat.

Despite falling back over the final lap, Lagat’s sheer strength drove him back, and he rallied Iowa State to its first DMR crown with a final time of 9:59.53.

Elsewhere, Roomes was also dominant, as the Minnesota native successfully defended his 600-yard run championship, while also holding off Nixon in a thrilling 800-meter final, finishing his last collegiate race in a time of 1:50.07.

It was also a bittersweet farewell to senior long distance runner Edwin Kurgat. The Eldoret, Kenya, native arrived in Ames after spending his first year at Tennessee-Martin, where he finished 21st at the 2017 NCAA Cross Country Championships.

Over the past three years, Kurgat has become a six-time All-American and conference champion in track and cross country, collecting half of those titles this season.

Kurgat started off the 2019-20 season with an undefeated campaign in cross country, capping it off by becoming the first Cyclone since Jonah Koech in 1990 to take home the individual title at the national meet. Iowa State as a team also placed fourth overall, their highest ranking since the national championship season of 1994.

Kurgat wasn’t done however, as his track season began with a school record in the 5,000-meter at the Boston University Invite in December. Kurgat’s time of 13:24.04 was a full 12 seconds ahead of the previous school record, set by Koech in 1991.

Another school record was broken with a blazing 3:58.62 in the 1 mile at the Iowa State Classic in February. As if that wasn’t enough, the senior headed to New York to participate in the 3,000-meter race at the prestigious Millrose Games.

Running in a highly competitive field, which included multiple Olympians, Kurgat hung tough with the field through the entirety of the race, finishing fifth in another school record time of 7:49.19.

His last school record was a team effort, joining forces with Roomes, Lagat and sophomore Cebastian Gentil to take first in the DMR at the Indiana Relays.

Kurgat held off Indiana’s Kyle Mau over the mile-long anchor leg to finish with a time of 9:28.22. The performance was ranked first in the nation for a few hours, before Oregon broke the NCAA record later that day.

Kurgat entered the Big 12 Championships meet as the favorite in both the 3,000-meter and 5,000-meter events. He did not disappoint, winning his final two collegiate races in dominant fashion, with teammate Thomas Pollard finishing runner-up in both races.

The pair of performances, along with a third place finish in the mile, earned Kurgat the “High-Point” award, scoring 26 points for Iowa State to seal a conference title.

Finally in the field events, a couple of senior athletes also waved their final goodbye this season.

In the high jump, Cody Durbin saved his best performance for last, taking home the fifth place medal at the Big 12 meet on home turf. Durbin’s best jump of 2.09 meters was the best of his career, as he finished behind champion Tejaswin Shankar of Kansas State, who won his second straight title.

Also saying farewell to Iowa State is redshirt senior thrower Vlad Pavlenko. The former All-American, who was often seen at home meets sporting a cowboy hat, had another strong season in the circle.

At the Husker Invitational, Pavlenko gave a throwback performance, breaking his own school record in the weight throw with a best mark of 72 feet, 4.25 inches.

This mark does not officially count however, due to his redshirt status for the indoor season. Pavlenko ends his collegiate career as a two time All-American, while also earning multiple honors within the Big 12 conference.

Overall, the Iowa State track and field program had an entire outdoor season ahead of them, with athletes across the board in position to continue some of their success.

Despite the sudden and shocking end of this year, the Cyclones still have numerous athletes waiting in the wings for next season.