The Drake track and field team heads to Ames, Iowa, this Friday for the Iowa State Holiday Preview. This is the first meet of the track and field season, and after a six-month offseason the athletes are anxious to get back on the track for competition.
The holiday preview originated as a dual meet between the Bulldogs and the Cyclones to have both squads check their development during the offseason. More teams now participate in the meet, but the purpose remains the same. Drake Head Coach Natasha Brown will take her sprinters, jumpers, hurdlers and a handful of distance runners to the Cyclone track.
“We have had three months of conditioning and just began to focus on event-specific training,” Brown said. “This meet gives us an indication of where the student-athletes are.”
Brown said that the team’s training has been on target, but once the actual competition hits, anything can happen. Many of her freshmen athletes are experiencing a 300-meter indoor track for the first time, or an indoor track at all for that matter. Therefore, the coaching staff is not only using this meet to gauge the progress of its returning upperclassmen, but also to help the new athletes adjust to the Division I level in time for the more prestigious Drake Relays and State Farm MVC Championship meets.
Two top hurdlers from last season will be returning to the track this year for the Bulldogs. Junior Jon DeGrave, winner of the 400-meter hurdles at the State Farm MVC Outdoor Track and Field Championship meet last season, will return for the men’s squad while senior Ari Curtis, a qualifier in the USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships last season, will return for the women. Both athletes have been training hard in the offseason to build up their endurance to compete in their events on a weekly basis. Like the rest of the team, the two hurdlers are just getting into training for their specific events.
“No matter how long or short the event you do is, it’s important to be able to have a general base of athleticism,” Curtis said.
Last year at the Iowa State Holiday Preview, Curtis placed sixth in the 60-meter hurdles, but arguably the slow start at the beginning of the season led to huge success at the end of it. The most impressive performer at last season’s meet was then-junior Tyse Samani, who placed first in the high jump. Samani will return to the Lied Recreation Center to defend her title. Then-junior Clarissa LaFlora won the 600-yard run last year, and also looks to defend her title.
No returning male athletes won any events at last year’s Iowa State Holiday Preview, but three then-underclassmen, including DeGrave, led Drake to a third-place finish in the 4-by-300 relay.
Curtis believes that last year was a good start to a promising season, but she believes that this year’s team will be even more dangerous.
“Last year’s freshmen class was huge, and now they have a year under their belts and are ready to make an even larger impact,” she said. “We have another big freshmen class this year with a lot of potential to help us out as well.”
Photo: File Photo