CEDAR FALLS — The Missouri Valley Conference pre-championship poll tabbed Northern Iowa men’s track and field as the favorite headed into this weekend’s conference championships.
Among the Panthers participating in their final MVC meet in Terre Haute, Ind., is Connor Ham. Ham, a senior hurdler from Solon, will enter Sunday’s 110-meter hurdles as the favorite.
After battling numerous hamstring strains throughout his career, Ham says he feels most fortunate to have had a largely injury free senior season.
“To have no injuries throughout the year is probably my biggest milestone of my college career to be honest,” Ham said.
UNI sprints and hurdles coach Diavonte Smith joined the staff this season and quickly made an impact on Ham, improving his technique. Smith says Ham’s natural athletic ability makes up for a lack of technicality at times, but their work together has quickly produced results.
“I’ve never really been the most clean, technical hurdler,” Ham said. “(I’m) kind of what we call, like, a momentum hurdler or a power hurdler. I usually end up hitting a couple (hurdles) a lot, so when I run a clean race it’s a rarity but it’s usually my best time. We’ve tried cleaning it up and stuff like that and it’s gotten better.”
Ham and Smith are still honed in on technical elements of the 110-meter hurdles despite Ham’s MVC-best time of 14.09.
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“A big thing for me was just my pedal placement,” Ham said. “Starts have never been my best thing. We re-worked it again and just changed my foot placement on the pedals just so that I would have a little more drive out instead of up. It’s done some good things for me getting to that first hurdle.”
Ham’s focus is on the MVC Championships, but he admitted that making the NCAA Championships is the goal. Punching his ticket to Austin will likely require a time 0.2 seconds faster than his current personal-best.
Whenever he runs his final race as a Panther, Ham, who originally committed to Arkansas, is glad he had a change of heart and chose UNI.
“I verbally committed to (Arkansas) and then decided last minute that I had family at UNI and I wanted to stay close to home,” Ham said. “I really liked the team atmosphere. It wasn’t just about the individual, it was about the group. I’m glad I did because all of the guys I’ve met have been great.”