IOWA CITY — Joey Woody tried to snap a picture of the big screen set up at Francis X. Cretzmeyer Track, showing his Iowa men’s track and field team had just captured its first Big Ten championship since 2011.
The screen vanished too quickly.
He accepted a few congratulations with a big smile spread across his face.
Then he squatted on the track as the women’s 1,600 relay began and cried. He tapped his chest, where a patch with the word “Raff” was stitched. He cried some more.
“He’s smiling down on us for sure,” Woody, head of the men’s and women’s programs at Iowa, said moments later, still fighting back tears. “He wanted to be here so bad.”
Raff is former Iowa volunteer assistant John Raffensperger, who died April 22 after a long battle with cancer.
Raff was Woody’s high school coach at nearby Iowa City High. He was a mentor to Woody, but more importantly he was a friend.
“I hadn’t cried even through the funeral,” Woody said, barely able to speak. “I guess I was just keeping it together. I knew we still had unfinished business. But he was in my heart this whole last three weeks.
“We knew he was with us. Man, it was tough because he’s been such an important part of my life and this team.”
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The Hawkeyes officially won the team title on Sunday — with 116 points, 13 ahead of Indiana. But Woody said it was set up just right by performances Friday and Saturday and getting athletes into Sunday’s finals.
“It was a tough battle and the guys really showed up,” he said. “The guys did the things they came here to do. The guys had a vision and a mindset and a drive and a heart.
“It was all about fighting and loving each other ... they call came through. It was awesome.”
Iowa was in 10th place when the day started, but got some key points with a fourth in the 400-meter relay. Then Jaylan McConico, Anthony Williams and Josh Braverman went 2-3-6 in the 110 high hurdles and when Mar’yea Harris and Karayme Bartley went 1-2 in the 400 dash, the Hawkeyes were contenders.
“One-two, that’s 18 points,” Harris said after his 45.67-second win, .13 in front of Bartley. “It’s really great.”
Woodward placed seventh in the 100, then Matt Manternach, Nolan Teubel and Tysen VanDraska went 4-5-6 in the 800. But it was Chris Douglas’ win in the 400 hurdles, with teammates Raymonte Dow and Noah Lawson finishing third and fifth, that propelled the Hawkeyes into the lead.
“I felt (Michigan’s Taylor) McLaughlin on my left and I knew he was running pretty fast and it was going to be a challenge,” Douglas said after running a personal best 50.32 seconds. “But I just kept fighting ... I dropped the hammer and went for it.”
Woodward and Bartley went 3-6 in the 200 dash, giving Iowa a little more cushion before Indiana placed three in the top five of the 5,000 run and pulled within striking distance.
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That set up the finale, the 1,600 relay, a race Woody emphasizes and one where the Hawkeyes were favored. They didn’t disappoint, winning in 3:07.36 with Harris providing a sizzling come-from-behind anchor.
“I’m not going to say it was hard,” he said with a laugh after coasting across the finish line. “I was nervous. I really wanted the win.”
That gave the Hawkeyes their first Big Ten team title since winning it here eight years ago.
“It was just such an amazing feeling,” Harris said.
The Iowa women also put on quite a show, placing third with 93 points — 33 behind champion Ohio State but just seven behind runner-up Indiana.
“I’m really proud of both teams,” Woody said.
Laulauga Tausaga was Iowa’s lone champion, capturing her second straight discus title.
“It’s amazing because it’s home.” Tausaga said. “You always want to try your hardest, especially when you’ve done it before.”
Briana Guillory was second in the 200 and 400 dashes Sunday and Jenny Kimbro finished second in the 100 hurdles, fifth in the 400 hurdles after a runner-up showing in the heptathlon on Friday and Saturday.
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