The last time IU track and field competed in a meet was the 2020 Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championships in February 2020. The Hoosiers are now preparing to compete in their first meet of the 2021 indoor season.
IU track and field opens its indoor season Saturday at the Simmons-Harvey Invitational at 10 a.m. in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
As Saturday’s meet approaches — both the men’s and women’s teams’ first in 322 days — head coach Ron Helmer has expressed appreciation for the opportunity to compete.
“And there's skepticism that goes along with it as well,” Helmer said. “There’s a bit of a ‘we’ll believe it when we see it’ attitude. There’s a real mixed bag of emotions.”
Senior sprinter Natalie Price, who hasn’t competed since last January, expressed excitement at a return to competition.
“It’s been so long since I’ve been able to do what I’ve been training to do,” Price said.
But Helmer has never had to coach multiple sports during one season. Helmer is used to a typical three-sport season. He coaches cross-country in the fall, indoor track and field in the winter and outdoor track and field in the spring.
“The cross-country thing is a wrinkle that’s hard to evaluate,” Helmer said.
When IU announced its 2021 indoor and cross-country schedule, one meet in particular stuck out to Helmer: the Big Ten Cross Country Championships on Jan. 30, just seven days after IU will host an indoor track and field meet.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, IU’s typical national schedule has been consolidated into conference-only competition.
For a program that relishes the opportunity to host and compete in national meets, the Big Ten mandated, conference-only schedule is a tough pill to swallow, according to Helmer.
“We’re going to miss out on competing with some people that would make us a lot better,” Helmer said. “We typically don’t get away from home very often because we have a great facility and because other teams want to come run here.”
Last season, IU hosted six regular season meets, something Helmer said was a priority for the program. This year, the Hoosiers have just four total regular season meets, each of which is limited to Big Ten schools.
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The men’s team, who won the Big Ten Indoor Championships last season, will begin its Big Ten title defense on Saturday.
“It was a really special experience for all of us, and it gives us a lot of confidence knowing we've done it before,” junior distance runner Arjun Jha said. “We've got a lot of guys coming back from that team.”
The men’s team returns several defending Big Ten champions and other strong performers. Senior Adam Coulon won the pole vault, senior Jyles Etienne won the high jump and fifth-year senior Ben Veatch took second in both the 3,000-meter run and the 5,000-meter run in the championship last season.
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On the women’s side, Helmer said he has a motivated group that feels as if it has something to prove after last year’s fourth-place finish at the Big Ten Indoor Championships.
Price said the men’s victory last season reinforces the team’s belief that it can finish better than fourth.
“Seeing that win allowed for the women to say ‘OK, we can do this,’” Price said. “We had a pretty young team last year, and so I’m really excited.”