DES MOINES — University of Northern Iowa sophomore Maddie Beeler of Interstate 35 looked forward to returning to the Drake Relays here last weekend.
"It's always great," she said. "It feels like home. This was my first real big time experience as an athlete growing up. So it's always nice to come back and make an appearance, see some friendly faces in the crowd. You always run fast here, so it's really great."
And run fast is exactly what Beeler did.
The Panther sophomore, running anchor for the UNI 4x400 relay team in Friday afternoon's prelims, ran a lifetime best split of 55.3.
Beeler, along with the group of junior Darian Samuelson, sophomore Christine MacNeill and freshman Alisha Jones, finished 18th in the University Division women's 4x400 relay with their time of 3:42.78.
"That was great," Beeler said. "Last year we didn't run anything close to this time, this soon. It was also my first time anchoring at the Drake Relays. We were kind of trying a new order this year. It felt really good. My coach was really pleased."
Beeler also ran on the 14th-place sprint medley relay for the Panthers. She ran the second 200 meter leg on the relay.
MacNeill and Jones joined Beeler on that relay as well, as did freshman Theresa Connelly on the 800 meter leg.
The Panther quartet ran 4:05.07 in Saturday morning's timed final.
"We're a really young relay," Beeler said. "We had two sophomores, two freshmen. We were just hopping to run really fast. It's a beautiful day. I didn't really have any expectations coming in, because we're so young. We have a lot of talent. I'm happy with our performance."
Running the 200 meter leg was a change of pace for Beeler.
"I'm more comfortable with 400s, because it's more my pace," she said. "So 200s aren't really my normal thing. But it felt good to open up and run all out."
Beeler said after a transitioning year last year as a freshman, she feels more comfortable competing at the collegiate level this year.
"This season has been great compared to last," she said. "Your freshman year is kind of all about transitioning and figuring things out — what works for you and gets you stronger.
"But this year, I feel like after having that building year, I feel like I'm finally hitting my stride and getting stronger. It's only going to get better from here, I think."
The Panthers will travel to Iowa City this weekend for the Musco Invitational, before hosting the Mark Messersmith Invitational on May 9.
They then travel to Carbondale, Ill., for the Missouri Valley Conference Outdoor Championships on May 15-17.
"Conference, coach (Dan Steele) is really pleased with where the women's team is at coming into conference," Beeler said. "We're looking good. We're a lot faster than we were this time last year, so it's coming along."