116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR FALLS — Third- and fifth-place predictions for the Northern Iowa men’s and women’s track and field teams, respectively, hold no water with head coach Dave Paulsen.
Ahead of the Missouri Valley Conference Outdoor Championships this weekend at Des Moines’ Drake Stadium, the annual poll’s release registers more with UNI’s athletes than their coach.
“I don’t pay attention to it. Never really have,” Paulsen said. “It’s a good thing the athletes, I think, look at it more than I do. So, my message to the team is just whether you’re picked first, whether you’re picked fourth or fifth or third, you have to execute. We’ve had years where we were picked to finish third and won the thing.”
Prognostications aside, the Panthers enter this weekend’s conference meet with a number of athletes poised to compete for spots on the podium, despite what’s been a challenging season due to numerous days of inclement weather.
“I think our level of consistency has been where it needs to be to be in position to have a good championship stretch here,” Paulsen said. “Especially given the not-great weather situation this spring.”
Shot put All-American Darius King leads the Panther men into the weekend with his MVC-leading and sixth-best in the country mark of 20.26 meters.
King has all but guaranteed himself a spot at the NCAA West Prelims in Fayetteville, Ark., in two weeks, but is relishing the opportunity to secure the second MVC shot put title of his illustrious career as the presumptive favorite.
“When it comes to (a) championship mindset, it’s kind of ‘hey, come get me,’ per se. I love having the target on my back,” King said. “It’s really fun to be the guy that everyone wants to take down.
King isn’t the only Panther entering this weekend’s field events with a target on his back.
Graduate senior Thomas Yezek sits third in school history and atop the MVC with a discus personal best of 58.21 meters. Along with King, the first-place points the pair are expected to bring will be critical to outdoing the pre-championship poll.
Another notable Panther on the men’s side is the versatile Parker Kiewet.
Kiewet sits second in the MVC in the open 400 and long jump, and third in the open 200. And despite the physical demands of those three events, Paulsen says he’s ready to take on the challenge.
“It’s a really unique triple. There’s not a lot of guys that have that kind of range. And he’s on the 4x100 (relay) and the 4x400 (relay),” Paulsen said. “He’s definitely a special talent.”
On the women’s side, field events are also formidable.
Senior Malory Henze holds an MVC-leading 52.28-meter discus throw.
Along with high expectations for Henze, UNI’s relay teams could prove to be key toward making a run at a conference championship, as its 4x100 and 4x400 relay teams finished the regular season in top form.
“I think our 4x100 can win. I think our 4x400 can also win,” Paulsen said. “I think the women’s team as a whole, we have a ton of opportunities where we can move up the ranks.”
The MVC Outdoor Championships begin Friday and wrap up Sunday (ESPN3).