Iowa's Sowinski, ISU's Kemboi surge into 800 final at NCAAs

 By Rob Gray

 Gazette correspondent

 DES MOINES — History met Iowa 800-meters star Erik Sowinski on his sport’s ultimate stage.

It’s a lofty perch — the NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships — the Waukesha, Wis., native wasn’t certain he’d ever reach.

“I didn’t know if I’d be running D I track; I was kind of looking at D III schools,” Sowinski said Wednesday at Drake Stadium after becoming the first Hawkeye in 13 years to ascend to all-American status at least three straight seasons. “Just having the coaches have faith in me has been a big driving force. The faith my coaches, my teammates, my family has in me has just been great. I push for those guys.”

The senior needed all that propulsion late in the 800-meter semifinals.

After bolting to the lead for the first half of the race, he lagged to fourth before unleashing a stronger-than-usual kick out of the final turn to post the best preliminary time of 1:46.09.

“Some guys started moving at 600 and I felt really good, so I was just looking around,” Sowinski said. “I was patient and I think that was the main thing.”

Sowinski — who shattered his previous personal best and then-Iowa record time of 1.46.88 — became his team’s first runner to earn all-American honors three years in a row since Bashir Yamini accomplished the feat four straight times from 1996-99.

Iowa State sophomore Edward Kemboi finished second to Sowinski in the heat and second (1.46.20) overall to attain all-American status for the second straight season.

The talented Cyclone from Kenya set the late-race standard Sowinski noted, then eclipsed.

“This is my second event running with Sowinski,” said Kemboi, who took fifth at last year’s NCAA Championships. “I raced with him two months ago. He did the same thing that he did (Wednesday) then.”

While Sowinski soared into the top eight for the third consecutive year, ISU’s Kianni Elahi helped cap her senior season with a first.

She finished second in her 400-meter hurdles heat in a time of 56.61, garnering all-American honors for the first time in a medal-laden career.

“I was like praying, ‘Please, no one pass me,’” Elahi said of her late-race emotions. “Even immediately afterwards, you’re so tired but I couldn’t stop smiling. So happy.”

Iowa’s Ethan Holmes took 18th in the 400 hurdles (51.68).

ISU’s Ian Warner placed 15th in the 100-meters in a personal best time of 10.24.

UNI’s Jordan Williams, a former Monticello standout, took 14th in the discus with a best throw of 183-10.

The Hawkeyes’ Ashley Liverpool finished 13th in the 400-meter dash, running a 52.81.

“It was an exciting experience,” the sophomore said.

That term aptly describes Sowinski’s four-year run at Iowa, as well.

Now one more race looms — thanks to his robust kick.

“It’s been a hell of a four years,” said Sowinski, who ultimately chose Iowa over Wisconsin once D I offers crystallized late in his high school career. “I didn’t want that to be my last race in the black and gold so I just dug deep and found it.”

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