The ISU men's and women's track teams are bound for the Big 12 tournament to compete as an entire team for the first time all season.
"This is the one unique thing about the Big 12 Championships in track and field. It is the only time you get the overall team performance," said ISU assistant coach Jeremy Sudbury. "It is all the events coming together with one team goal."
That is not the only original feature of the tournament. Sudbury said this weekend will also be the first time in the entire outdoor season that every Big 12 team will compete in the same event.
"You get the same [team format] at nationals, but it is at a higher elite level," Sudbury said. "The scores are much lower and you do not have as many athletes at the meet because you have to qualify."
Because Iowa State has numerous athletes on both the men's and women's sides who are likely candidates for the national championships, Sudbury said the conference tournament also serves as a preparatory role for bigger and tougher challenges to come later.
Sudbury said that Iowa State is strong in events throughout the sport but has a record of being highly competitive in the distance events, both this year and throughout the program's history.
"We are kind of heavy in the distance area, but we have some really nice key players in different areas that that help [elevate] our program overall," Sudbury said.
The women's middle distance runners have been particularly impressive this season under newly hired coach Andrea Grove-McDonough, who formerly worked for the University of Connecticut.
Redshirt senior Ejiro Okoro is a middle-distance leader on the team and was the Big 12 champion in the 800-meter dash during the indoor season. Her sister, redshirt senior Ese Okoro, also posted the third-fastest 400-meter hurdles time in the country this year.
Other notable performers on the women's side are sophomore Samantha Bluske, who is running the 5,000-meter race, and shot-putter Christina Hillman, who placed second in the Big 12 Indoor Championships and holds the school record for shot-putting.
On the men's side, junior Edward Kemboi is a standout middle-distance runner who is currently ranked third in the nation on the strength of a program record, which he set by posting 1:45.98 in the 800-meter dash. Sudbury said that was the fastest indoor time by any 800-meter participant in the country this season.
Kemboi placed first in the 800-meter-dash two years ago at the Big 12 Outdoor Championships but was unable to defend his title last season due to a stress fracture in his foot. He said this time around, there is only one result with which he will be pleased.
"They usually say as an athlete you do not know what is going to happen until it happens," Kemboi said. "But, I want to go out there and get my title back. My goal is first place."
Kemboi said he may also be called upon to run the 4x400 meter relay, but that has not yet been determined. He said whatever he is asked to do is okay with him.
"I am ready for everything," Kemboi said. "I just want to assist my team. My focus is to win."
Sudbury said winning has been a constant emphasis throughout the team's ranks this season, but that a full assessment of the roster is also paramount in the first year of the program under an entirely new coaching staff, which is led by ISU head coach Martin Smith.
Sudbury said the Big 12 Tournament will help the staff to get a full and accurate gauge of the roster.
"We want to see what we have this year completely so we know what gaps and holes we have to fill with recruiting moving into the future," Sudbury said.
The men's team finished in eighth place out of nine teams in the Big 12 Indoor Championships this season and the women finished in third place. As far as expectations go for the outdoor conference tournament, Sudbury stated them simply.
"This is our first year at ISU with the whole new coaching staff. Our expectation is to build off what we did indoors," Sudbury said. "Everybody has been properly prepared and we are excited to get in the ring and compete."
The Big 12 Outdoor Championships will be in Lubbock, Texas, and are scheduled for May 16 through May 18.