The Big Ten outdoor track and field championships are this weekend at the Rankin Track and Field Complex in West Lafayette.
The facility is Purdue’s home track, but will welcome all the other conference teams this weekend.
IU, traditionally a strong track and field school, has suffered a down year after losing some key seniors from a year ago. Now, Helmer said he hopes for his team to finish in the top six or so of the Big Ten.
“I would hope that we would have team that in a mediocre year, we’d still be in the top half of the conference,” Helmer said.
This season IU is replacing stars Andy Bayer and Derek Drouin – who won a bronze medal in the 2012 summer Olympics in London. Helmer said they still have the premiere talent they need to win some events, but the biggest obstacle this year has been the depth.
During the Big Ten outdoor championships this weekend, Helmer is looking for some people to step up and secure some top-10 finishes to help the team grind out points.
“I hope that we have enough depth to get those fifth and sixth and seventh place finishes to get enough points at the end,” Helmer said.
Compared to teams Helmer has coached in the past, this one is younger than usual.
In a transition year between competing at a higher level, Helmer has to balance looking forward to the future while still giving the attention and effort this team deserves.
“I don’t want to sit here and say ‘You know, next year we’re going to be pretty good,’” Helmer said. “But we will be really good, because all these kids will be a year older ... But that doesn’t get you through this year,” he said. “But I’m not going to accept that quite yet.”
Helmer said he wanted the depth to develop throughout the season and hasn’t seen as much of it as he would have liked.
But with the Big Ten outdoor championships this weekend, NCAA regionals from May 29 to 31 and potentially the NCAA Championships from June 11 to 14, there are still more opportunities for the younger teammates to shine on the brightest stages.
“It’s lurking on the surface. It’s right there,” Helmer said of the potential of young athletes. “The challenge we have is to get people to step up when the pressure is on.”
In track and field, one of the biggest obstacles for tackling the mental aspect of the game is not allowing the other competitors to get in your head, Helmer said.
A person in front of you might do something incredible or an All-American might just be better than you, but as a competitor you must be able to block that out and just do the best you can do without worrying about other people.
“Some people have learned how to do that,” Helmer said, “And other people are still learning how to do that.”
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