UW Health Sports Medicine 

Breaking down the bubble

Both the Wisconsin men's and women's track and field teams are dividing their resources this weekend in hopes of adding to their list of qualifiers for next week's NCAA Indoor Championships.

A number of Badgers will compete at UW-Whitewater's Karl Schlender Last Chance, largely for the reason of getting another competition under their belts to avoid going a month without racing. The Big Ten Indoor Championships concluded on Feb. 28, and the Badgers don't get the outdoor season going in earnest until the Florida State Relays on March 26.

Those with the best chance of earning a spot in the NCAA championships -- you know, "on the bubble" -- are set to compete either at the Alex Wilson Invitational in South Bend, Ind., or the Iowa State Last Chance in Ames, Iowa.

Here's an event-by-event breakdown of the Badgers' best threats to make the NCAA meet, including each athlete's season-best time and current national rank, as well as what recent history tells us about what it takes to qualify.

800 Meters

- Zach Mellon (1:49.28) -- 21st
- Zach Beth (1:49.35) -- 24th
- Luke Rucks (1:49.41) -- 26th

How many? ... Over the past three years, an average of 15 athletes have qualified in the 800, including 14 last year.

How fast? ... As recently as 2007, a time of 1:49.30 was good enough to make the meet. In 2008, it took a 1:48.93, while a 1:49.01 was good enough last year.

So you're telling me there's a chance ... Beth, who qualified in the 800 last year, would seem to have the best shot. Still, his indoor lifetime best of 1:48.89 would rank him 16th nationally even before anyone runs this weekend. A sub-1:48.9 run is a must, and Beth will almost certainly have to top his personal best to crack the field, as six athletes have already achieved the automatic qualifying standard. That likely leaves -- at the maximum -- 10 at-large spots. Still, don't count out any of the three Badgers. Rucks was runner-up at the Big Ten meet last weekend and Mellon had the top time in the prelims before going down in the final.

3000 Meters
- Maverick Darling (8:03.37) -- 36th

How many? ... 15 has been the average over the past three years, including 14 taken last season

How fast? ... A 7:57.60 was fast enough last season, but it took a 7:56.03 to make the meet in 2008.

So you're telling me there's a chance ... Darling looked extremely sharp on his way to a runner-up finish in the 5,000 meters at the Big Ten championships last weekend, but he'll be tasked with dropping 7-8 seconds from his season-best mark in the 3,000 this weekend if he hopes to make the NCAAs. Three of the athletes that made the field last year did so by finishing 1-2-3 at the Alex Wilson.

5000 Meters
- Landon Peacock (13:57.52) -- 21st

How many? ... After taking 15 in the 5,000 meters in 2007 and 2008, only 14 were selected for the 2009 NCAA Indoor Championships

How fast? ... Peacock's 2010 season-best time would have him easily in the field if we were talking about two years ago, when a 13:58.19 made the meet. Last year, however, a 13:54.25 was the slowest time to qualify, while it took a 13:50.15 to make the meet in 2007.

So you're telling me there's a chance ... Unless times drop like crazy this weekend -- and they could -- the cut likely will be just under the 13:53 mark. That would require Peacock, fresh off a Big Ten title in the event last week, to drop around four seconds from his season-best time this weekend. That could be a challenge the week after a tough 3,000/5,000 double at the Big Ten championships.

60-Meter Hurdles
- Nate Larkin (7.97) -- NR

How many? ... The field was only 14 at last year's NCAA meet, down from 16 in 2008 and 18 in 2007.

How fast? ... The average "last time in" over the past three years has been right around 7.80, including the 7.81 Larkin used last year as the final competitor to make the meet.

So you're telling me there's a chance ... The numbers aren't in his favor, but you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who is more of a competitor than Larkin. Runner-up at the Big Ten meet last week, Larkin owns a personal-best of 7.87 in the 60-meter hurdles. His qualifying time of 7.81 last year was converted from a 55-meter hurdles run. Still, that performance came on last-chance weekend 2009, so don't rule out a big time drop for Larkin.

4x400-Meter Relay
- Wisconsin ( (3:10.56) -- NR

How many? ... Over the past three seasons, it's been 11 teams selected each year.

How fast? ... The field has been faster each year since 2007, when a 3:08.26 qualified for the championships. Last year, the final qualifying spot went to a 3:07.50.

So you're telling me there's a chance ... Based on the national performance list, as it stands now, the Badgers need to find about 2 1/2 seconds to get themselves into the conversation for an NCAA berth. Factor in what likely will happen at last-chance meets this weekend, and the task probably becomes even greater. The 11th-place team (Texas Tech) already has run 3:08.04 this season. However, the Badgers have the advantage of running with Oklahoma (currently ranked ninth at 3:07.76) and Alabama (15th, 3:09.27) on the Loftus Center's oversized track this weekend. The foursome of Quinn Evans, James Groce, Grant Bughman and Kyle Jefferson is fresh off a third-place finish at Big Tens, too.