CEDAR FALLS — On ‘the Hill’ on the University of Northern Iowa’s campus there is a pizza place called $5 Pizza.
Typically on Wednesday and Thursday nights, the Panther track field team’s six men’s throwers have what they call ‘Pizza night.’
And this is not six guys getting together to share a couple of pizzas. All six — Isaac Holtz, Darius King, Billy Blaser, Keegan Tritle, Kyler Yodts and Thomas Yezek — each get their own.
In fact, the household of King, Yodts and Yezek has knocked down 28 pizzas since the start of UNI’s spring semester in the middle of January.
“Yeah, we’ve put a hurting on that place,” laughed Yezek.
Five-dollar pizza isn’t the only joint UNI’s throwers have devastated. Buffalo Wild Wings is a frequent haunt, and Applebees may rethink its bottomless chicken strips promotion.
“I think we knocked down 20 plates between us,” Yezek laughed again. “We’ve put up some good numbers.”
All joking aside, this group of track and field athletes have been producing huge numbers in competition, too.
And those big numbers come just in time for this weekend’s Missouri Valley Conference Indoor Track and Field championships at the UNI-Dome that start Saturday. The men’s shot put is slated for 2 p.m. Sunday.
UNI’s group of shot putters ranks third nationally as a collective group behind only Southern Illinois and Ohio State in USTFCCA event squad rankings. The USTFCCA averages the top four performers on each team and ranks them by average. The Panthers four person average of 18.24 meters (59 feet, 10 inches) with Southern Illinois (18.83) and Ohio State (18.42) the only teams better.
“We had a pretty stellar group of throwers last year,” senior Isaac Holtz of Monticello said. “I didn’t think we’d have that again. This is probably one of the most amazing things I’ve ever been a part of with six guys throwing the shot as far as we are. It is insane.”
In fact, UNI is the only program in the nation with six shot putters who have went 17.4 meters (57 feet) or better this indoor season.
“It pushes us to try to get to No. 1,” said Moline’s Darius King. “Being No. 3 is pretty amazing as a group and having six guys over 17.4 is pretty incredible. It is a special experience no matter where it ends up.”
Every day is a battle between the six throwers. They say that is what drives them to be better and their coach, Dan O’Mara agrees.
“It’s a tossup for whom is going to be in the Top four every day,” O’Mara said. “Competition creates a great culture for success.”
“At all times I will be watching somebody else throw and I’ll be like, I got to be to that area so I can be good enought,” added Blaser, a freshman from Peosta.
These throwers are so competitive that one can’t celebrate a great success without being topped by an even better performance.
Case in point came just last weekend in Madison, Wis. at the Shell Shocker Invitational. King launches a throw of 60-feet, 3-inches break UNI’s Indoor record. The record lasted less than 120 seconds.
Tritle, a junior from Lisbon, stepped into the circle next and launched a throw of 61-1 3/4.
“It has always been real competitive around here and watching him break the school record first, I kind of fed off that energy and got amped up for that throw,” Tritle said.
“I mean, I couldn’t let him have it. Being a year older than him I figured I had to prove my worth so I just had to take it from him,” added Tritle with a smile.
The challenge internally from their teammates is what UNI believes will help them this weekend against Southern Illinois, which features the conference’s best shot putter, Jared Kern, who ranks fifth nationally with a throw of 65-5 1/2.
“When you count on those guys and they come through it brings you up,” said Yodts, a sophomore from Rock Island. “Having six guys over 17.4 is quite remarkable, and we will keep pushing each other to go farther and farther. In the end, that consistency throughout our whole group will continue to push us to great success.”
Multi events for the MVC Indoor begin at 9:30 a.m. on both Saturday and Sunday with field events kicking off at 11 a.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday. Track events begin at 1:25 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday.