Distance drought is history
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A tactical gem orchestrated by University of Iowa senior McKenzie Melander over the course of 5,000 meters on May 13 helped ease the frustration experienced by the Hawkeye women's distance corps at the past three league championships.
Melander, a senior from Apple Valley, Minn., won the Big Ten Conference 5K crown in Madison, Wis., with a time of 16:14.03. The runner-up was teammate Betsy Flood in 16:21.21. It marked the first Big Ten 5K outdoor title for a Hawkeye since Diane Nukuri in 2008, the same meet that the UI's Meghan Armstrong won the 10K. Armstrong also collected the 3K championship at the 2008 Big Ten Indoor Championships.
The effort by Melander ended a four-year distance drought for the Hawkeyes.
"To go 1-2 and score 18 points in the 5K is huge for our program," UI head coach Layne Anderson says. "It's well-deserved for those young ladies."
McKenzie Melander is all smiles after winning the 5K final.
A Hawkeye distance runner has finished second six times in distances from 3K to 10K since the 2011 indoor conference championships. Flood, one of the most prolific competitors in UI history, has come up with the silver medal five times during that span.
Melander added to the runners-up list Friday, May 11, when she was second to Penn State senior Kara Millhouse by four seconds in the 10K.
"McKenzie ran 25 laps (on a 400-meter track) on Friday night and 12½ laps Sunday, at a high level; to get second and first and score 18 points, you can't ask for much more," Anderson says.
"It shows my progression over the past four years," Melander says. "I put a lot of work into running every day, so it makes me feel good to know that it is paying off."
While Melander shined bright in the Wisconsin sun Sunday, Flood indicated that she is peaking at the right time. After posting the fastest qualifying time for the 1,500-meter run (4:23.92) Saturday, May 12, Flood shaved four seconds off that time in the finals to finish fourth in 4:19.62. She then bounced back to place second in the 10K.
It added to Flood's list of Big Ten "seconds": 3K and 5K at the 2011 indoor championships, 5K and 10K at the 2011 outdoor championships, and 5K at the 2012 outdoor championships.
"It was great to see Betsy come back to life last weekend," Anderson says.
Iowa's 1-2 punch in the 5K—more precisely, Melander's knockout blow—gives credence to the Hawkeye program and to the body of work of Anderson, one of the premier distance coaches in the nation.
"It gives us credibility and helps us going forward," Anderson says. "Other student athletes in our program—Kayla Beattie, Brooke Eilers, Megan Ranegar—have to believe if they work like McKenzie and Betsy, if they stay patient and faithful, that perhaps they can have a day to shine like this."
It is the first Big Ten title for Melander, who would like to accomplish another first May 26 at the NCAA West Preliminary Round in Austin, Texas. Melander owns the school record in the indoor mile and the 6,400-meter relay. She was an indoor national qualifier in 2011, but has yet to make it to the final round of an outdoor championship.
"That's the next step," Melander says. "It would be nice to be back in Des Moines on the blue oval."
The final of the NCAA women's 5K is 12:19 p.m., Saturday, June 9, at Drake Stadium. That field includes the top 12 runners from Austin and the top 12 to qualify from the NCAA East Preliminary Round in Jacksonville, Fla.