For the IU track and field teams, this weekend is about more than the 2018 Big Ten Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
IU Coach Ron Helmer said this weekend is about more than posting good results. In the midst of a rebuild of Helmer’s coaching staff that has put an emphasis on recruiting, building the foundation of the program’s future will be a major focus, sitting squarely on the shoulders of the Hoosiers’ many freshmen and sophomores.
“That’s a big part of this weekend,” Helmer said. “Our young kids need to take a step forward and boost their confidence that they can compete at this level. That may not make us better right now, but it could. The manner in which people compete affect the manner in which the people around them compete. If they go out there and bring good energy and do positive things, that makes us better whether they score a point or not.”
It all culminates this weekend as IU will be hosting the Big Ten Outdoor Championships in Bloomington for the first time since 2010.
While the future looms for the Hoosiers, the present presents itself with a daunting collection of high-level competition within the conference.
Even some of the Hoosiers’ best veteran performers won’t be considered favorites this weekend.
On the men’s side, senior Daniel Kuhn has broken the IU 800-meter record multiple times over the past few years. Yet, he still ranks second in the Big Ten behind Penn State’s Isaiah Harris.
In the shot put, junior Willie Morrison, another IU record-holder, is ranked eighth in the country in the event, but is still just third in the Big Ten.
On the women’s side, juniors Katherine Receveur and Maggie Allen rank first and second respectively on the IU all-time record list in the 5,000-meter race, but are still behind Michigan’s Erin Finn by at least 10 seconds heading into the conference championship.
“Those are the kinds of things that those kids are up against in this meet,” Helmer said. “As good as they are, the challenges they’re going to face in their events means they’re going to have to beat some of the best people in the world to win.”
As usual for IU, the distance and middle distance groups will be important for both the men and women. It’s a group Helmer said has found some consistency over the past couple of years and will serve as a kind of anchor for the rest of the team.
Along with Kuhn being the second seed in the 800-meter, freshman Cooper Williams is close behind as the three seed.
In the 1,500-meter, junior Joe Murphy comes in ranked second in the conference while freshman Ben Veatch is the four seed in the 5,000-meter.
Meanwhile, Receveur and Allen rank second and third in the women’s 5,000-meter, and senior Kendell Wiles is the three seed in the 800-meter.
The Hoosiers can only go as far as their anchors in the distance events take them, but Kuhn said he thinks they are ready to handle the pressure.
“Pressure is what you put on yourself in running,” Kuhn said. “There’s nobody controlling what you do, so you just have to try and be oblivious to it and have fun.”
Wiles, who also comes in as a part of IU’s women’s 4x400 relay team (the four seed), said she’s excited about the challenges the Big Ten competition presents.
“Honestly, this is the most relaxed I’ve ever been before Big Tens,” Wiles said. “Knowing I have confidence coming into this week along with experience is really helpful.”
IU will be looking for big performances from those in the field events as well. It’s a group that’s gone a bit under the radar for the Hoosiers this season.
Along with Morrison in the shot put, the men’s team has other highly seeded participants in the field. Junior Eric Bethea will be the two seed in the triple jump, while sophomore Adam Coulon is tied for third in the pole vault.
On the women’s side, sophomore Khayla Dawson is the Hoosiers’ lone one seed, as she ranks first in the shot put.
Meanwhile, two individuals who have moved up in the IU record books come in with high seeds as well. Sophomore Leah Moran, who is second all-time in the triple jump for IU, is the three seed in the event, and junior Nycia Ford, who ranks third in IU’s hammer throw record list, is fourth in her event.
The championships will be a mixture of old and new for the Hoosiers. Veterans like Kuhn and Wiles will be leading the way for IU’s abundance of young budding stars.
The future has never been more important for Helmer and his squad, and this weekend will prove to be one of the earliest steps toward releasing whatever untapped potential the team has.
“The excitement of what’s to come is absolutely there,” Helmer said. “The sense of urgency about going out there and maximizing what we have this weekend is first and foremost right now though.”
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