Earlier this month, IU track and field head coach Ron Helmer announced his class of commitments for the upcoming 2017-18 season. The 17-member class consisted of eight women and nine men.
The 2017 class of incoming Hoosiers seems rather small at first glance, but Helmer said he isn’t concerned with amount athletes joining the team this season.
“We probably cut back a little,” Helmer said. “There’s been years we’ve brought in more, but it’s a good, solid class in terms of numbers.”
The Hoosiers already had a young core in place last season and adding another talented class could help IU continue to grow as a team. Helmer said he looks for more traits in the recruits than just their skills as a runner or in the field.
“You have to like the person,” Helmer said. “Beyond that, what we hope we are getting are people that want to get better, people that have the desire to do the work to become better and people who really love the challenge of competing at a high level.”
Helmer stressed the importance of wanting to compete all last season and claims his best athletes are the ones who have that characteristic in them.
“That’s hard sometimes because high school guys can be very good,” Helmer said. “They can even be state champions, but they’ve never lined up against people they’ll see at the collegiate level. What you hope is the work ethic is there because it will serve them well in the classroom too.”
Once a recruit is selected by the staff, the process to get that student to IU can be very challenging and time consuming as well. This process first involves one of the coaches getting to know an athlete through a in-home visit.
“The coaches have communicated with them for about a year or more,” Helmer said. “Then we go and see them run before bringing them on campus for an official visit. Obviously we are limited in what we can do, but we try to maximize everything we can do to get to know what they’re all about and get them comfortable with us.”
When a recruit finally makes it to campus, Helmer and the rest of the staff can begin pitching why IU is such a good a fit for their future athletes. Helmer believes IU has an abundant amount of assets to draw potential Hoosiers in.
“Bloomington is a great college town,” Helmer said. “We are a Big Ten school and have plenty of programs for kids who are motivated to do well academically. In track and field, our facilities are second to none, but the biggest thing is that we are going to give them a chance to be a good as they can possibly be. I think people just want to know that they can have the chance to chase their dreams.”
Not all freshman get a chance to shine right away. In the sport of track and field, it can often take time to get athletes to their full potential because most kids are still growing and developing physically. Helmer said he enjoys getting a head start when it comes to seeing where his young athletes are at as far as training goes.
“It’s fairly systematic,” Helmer said. “They’ve all got workout plans that their coaches have sent to them. They need to be doing that and getting prepared so that it’s not a total shock when they get here. Then we keep in mind they are freshman, but we ask them to jump right in and give it their all.”
It’s not uncommon for freshman to be given a redshirt in their first year. This allows the athlete to properly adjust to their new high-paced life of being a student-athlete. Just like classes and homework tend to get harder in college, the average training regimen becomes more advanced as well. Helmer said his athletes always have someone to go to for help adapting to life as a college athlete.
“There’s times where upperclassmen are really helpful in that process,” Helmer said. “The key thing once they get on campus is communication. If they have a question, all they have to do is ask. They need to realize that there are a lot of people who want to help them be successful and they will point them in the right direction and to the right people.”
Whether the incoming athletes are redshirted or end up contributing immediately, Helmer said he’s more than excited about the class coming in.
“Both the men and women brought in really good classes,” Helmer said. “The place we probably didn’t hit really hard was the distance and middle-distance runners. If you look at this group, we cover a lot of areas with some high-talent kids.”
The 2017 class has four athletes ranked within the top 10 in their respective event in the country. The group as a whole is responsible for a total of 19 state championships throughout their high school careers.
Three athletes from Ohio highlight the 2017 class on the women’s side. Anna Watson is a two-time state champion and ranked No. 3 in the nation among pole vaulters. Maddie Pollard is another field athlete who won a total of five state championships and ranks inside the top 20 in the discus, hammer and shot put. Natalie Price was a four-time state champion in the 400m dash and ranks No. 7 with a best time of 52.93.
The Hoosiers also added Zykeria Williams who was the 2017 All-Middle Georgia Athlete of the Year. Williams is a three-time state champion who competes in the 400m, 200m, 100m hurdles and long jump.
Nick Lane is the only incoming male recruit to win multiple state championships in high school. The four-time champion is ranked No. 6 in the hammer throw and No. 4 in the weight throw. He finished fifth in the hammer at both the New Balance Outdoor Nationals as well as the USATF Junior National Meet in 2017.
IU’s other state champion on the men’s side is a high jumper from the Bahamas. Jyles Etienne was the 2016 New York State Champion. He finished second at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals in 2016 and then returned to place fourth in 2017.
The Hoosiers also brought in a short sprinter who is ranked No. 16 in the country in the 100m with a time of 10.34. Rikkoi Brathwaite is from Tortola, British Virgin Islands and finished fourth at the 2017 New Balance Outdoor Nationals.
Each athlete transitions at their own pace, but Helmer said he is hopeful that some of these incoming freshman are good enough to make a difference as soon as next season. He said the key to being able to have an impact right away is an athlete’s winning mentality.
“Knowing how to win is important,” Helmer said. It’s critical and they are wired to learn how to do that. It may take them a year to get ready in the Big Ten, but we’d hope they would eventually contribute.”
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