First as a competitor and now as a coach, Eric Werskey has garnered great personal rewards from his devotion to track and field.
The 2006 graduate of Seymour High School was completing his third indoor season as an assistant coach with the University of Iowa track and field teams when collegiate sports came to an end in March because of COVID-19.
The Hawkeyes were in Albuquerque, New Mexico, preparing for the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships when their season came to an end.
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“It was Thursday afternoon and Laulauga (Tausaga) was doing her premeet routine at the track,” Werskey said of his NCAA women’s national champion discus thrower. “During her time of her premeet practice is when the Power 5 basketball tournaments were canceled, the NCAA basketball tournaments were canceled, and as we finished, we began seeing conferences mandating that their teams return to campus.”
It was only a matter of hours before track joined the other sports on the sidelines.
“The NCAA canceled the NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships before 3 p.m., and prior to that, the Big Ten already issued their statement that all teams on the road must return to their respective campuses ASAP,” Werseky said.
“Our head coach, Joey Wood, gathered all staff members and our national qualifiers and informed us that we were catching a 6 p.m. flight back to Iowa City,” he said. “It was a very somber moment because several of our athletes were seniors and ranked top five nationally, yet they could not compete for a potential national title. It was a very hard pill to swallow for all of us, and it still is.”
Tausaga was seeded second in the shot put and ranked in the top 10 in the weight throw indoors.
Werskey, who coaches the throwers at Iowa, said all team activities were suspended, and a majority of the team returned to their homes and finished semester classes online.
“We have been able to meet with them virtually and do wellness checks,” Werskey said of the situation during the pandemic. “Most of our student-athletes have had to be creative during this practice/training time. We have been able to give them suggestions, but with facilities, tracks and gyms closed, it has posed a unique challenge for them all.”
The former Owl said he has a fairly young group on the men’s side. He said when he arrived in Iowa City, he had two upperclassmen, and it has taken him two years to create some depth through recruiting.
“Thankfully, the group is young but very talented and competitive,” he said. “Most of their strong suit lies within the discus throw, but they are developing in other events like the weight throw and the hammer throw.”
The weight and hammer is generally new to incoming students.
“The typical high school thrower does not experiment with these events until arriving on campus, so the technical development does take about two years,” Werskey said.
“Accompanying Laulauga is a very talented group at Iowa,” he said. “The group has rewritten the record books on the women’s side, and we are chipping away on the men’s side. Our goal is to continue to set new standards and build each season. Thankfully, this entire group returns in 2021 indoor and outdoor seasons.”
Werskey said for the male throwers, the weight of the equipment increases from high school to college (shot put 12 lbs. to 16 lbs., discus 3.52 lbs. to 4.4 lbs.).
“With the increase in implement weight, the weight room strength and maturity also plays a major role,” he said.
In 2019, Werskey coached Tausaga to the Hawkeyes’ first individual NCAA outdoor championship in 34 years when she won the discus. In his first season at Iowa, Werskey coached Hawkeye athletes to four All-America honors, four school records and two Big Ten championships.
Werskey traveled with and coached Tausaga at the World Championships in Doha, Qatar, from Sep. 27 to Oct. 4, 2019, where she won her qualifying heat with a personal best and school record 209-foot, 9-inch discus throw.
Werskey coached for two years at California State University Northridge before coming to Iowa. He made an immediate impact with the California throwers, coaching the men’s and women’s discus throwers to Big West outdoor titles. His male throwers placed second and third in the shot put, and one female thrower placed third.
Since graduating from Auburn University, Werskey has trained at the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, California, and worked with coach Art Venegas. Werskey has worked with some of the best throwing athletes in the world, such as Joe Kovacs, Tia Brooks and Whitney Ashley.
Werskey has coached men and women in college competition.
“Thankfully, I have had great groups at each place I have coached,” he said. “Plus, the buy-in and family cohesiveness allows for a positive atmosphere, which yields positive results.”
He said there is not much difference coaching the throws indoors and outdoors.
“Competitions are still competitions, and the Big Ten Conference is without a doubt the strongest throwing conference in America, so we have to stay prepared,” he said.
The Hawkeyes travel.
“Thankfully, our operating budget allows our teams to travel to quality competitions each season,” Werskey said. “We have a beautiful indoor facility that allows us to host quality meets during the indoor season. Then during the outdoor season, we tend to fly to the West Coast and Florida regularly.”
Coaching collegiate student-athletes is very rewarding, Werskey said.
“I am able to meet people that are way different than me in several facets of life, yet we find a common goal to be successful,” he said. “Additionally, seeing kids turn into young adults and witness their own respective personal growths is very rewarding. At the end of the day, having devoted student-athletes that can see a big picture with their career goals or personal growth goals with me being their mentor makes it worth it.”