CEDAR FALLS — Grip it and rip it is most commonly used as a golfing expression.
But for University of Northern Iowa senior thrower Isaac Holtz, it was kind of his go-to style when he arrived on campus four years ago from Monticello.
It wasn’t a horrible idea, either. Holtz won the Missouri Valley Conference outdoor discus title by gripping it and ripping it.
However, the highly motivated track athlete knew that in order to reach bigger goals, his technique had to be solid. So, Holtz went to work with Panther throws coach Dan O’Mara and a more consistent thrower emerged.
Three times Holtz has won the MVC outdoor discus title in his career. He finished second last year and for the fourth time this Thursday through Saturday, he will compete at the NCAA West Regional in Sacramento, Calif., where he wants to have a breakthrough performance.
“I’ve been a lot more consistent this year,” said Holtz, who graduated this month and will begin graduate school for physical therapy this summer at the University of Iowa. “I’m a lot more confident.”
After winning that conference discus title in 2016, Holtz did go to work at perfecting his craft.
“It has been a good journey,” Holtz continued. “My goal is always to win a national championship, and obviously, it may be a little out of reach, but if you are not striving to be No. 1, then what are you doing?
“I wanted to come here and be the best discus thrower in the country. I’m not going to train to be second in anything, so I wanted to be the best in the country. I’m not the most talented, strongest athlete or fastest, but that is how I wanted to train and that is what I did.”
Holtz is tied for the 18th-best throw in the discus with a qualifying mark of 57.10 meters. The top 12 at the West Regional advance to the NCAA Championships and Holtz knows exactly where he needs to be.
“This isn’t a normal meet,” he said. “You get three throws. This is my fourth trip. The last three I’ve came away heartbroken. This year, I’m trying to change that trend.”
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Although Holtz admits this year’s field is deeper, he has a good idea what it will take to make the top 12, and that is 56 to 56 1/2 meters or roughly more than 183 feet. When Holtz went to the West Regional last spring, he had hit the 56-meter mark just once, with what he described as a pretty good wind behind him.
This spring, Holtz has gone over 56 meters in all but two outdoor events and has multiple throws beyond that mark.
“That was the goal this year to be over 56 meters in every single meet,” Holtz said. “I’ve been real consistent in going past that mark. In previous seasons, I’d hit that once and think that is what I’ve got to get, have my best day.
“You can’t expect to have your best day. You have to have your normal day, and then maybe get lucky and go farther. I get three throws, and I feel if I have my normal day I’m going to hit the mark I need, and that, I believe, will be more than good enough to get to the NCAA Championships.”
Holtz got into throwing in high school, because he admits he was not the best athlete on campus. Former UNI throwing great Jordan Williams is from Monticello, and Williams’ dad, Greg, is the head track coach. Both are huge influences on Holtz today.
“Coach Williams has had one of the biggest impacts on me,” Holtz said. “Jordan has helped me quite a bit, too, because he has been through all of it and I can ask him, ‘You’ve been here. What should I do?’”
Holtz will throw in the middle of three flights in Sacramento, as his throw of 57-10 ties him for the best mark in that group.
“I’m going to go out, try to hit my mark, get that throw, and then go find a quiet place to sit and see if that mark sticks,” Holtz said.
Holtz is also qualified in the shot put, along with teammates Darius King, Keegan Tritle and Kyler Yodts.
UNI’s Connor Ham and Cole Phillips are in the 110 hurdles field, while Wal Khat is in the 800 and Evan Long in the 200. The 4x100 team of Tayshaun Cooper, Ryan Van Baale, Corey Hertz and Phillips is also qualified.
On the women’s side, Alanna Nietert qualified in the hammer throw.