UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: Badgers' balance has Byrne excited for Big Ten meet

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UW men's cross country coach Mick Byrne was paying Ryan Collins a compliment when he put the Virginia transfer in context with one of his former distance runners, Landon Peacock.

A year ago, Peacock won his first individual Big Ten championship while sparking the Badgers to their 12th-consecutive league crown -- which they will be defending Sunday at the University of Illinois Arboretum in Champaign.

"He's not an artist like Landon,'' Byrne said of Collins. "He's not as far out there as Landon was.''

Byrne later clarified his use of the word "artist.''

"I wasn't referring to him being an artist in the sport,'' he said, "as much as I was referring to him in general terms. Landon was a little eccentric. He was a dreamer. He'd get into his own little world.

"He wouldn't mean to. He was trying to focus on the race and he'd be off drawing some landscape in his mind. Maybe that's why he was such a good athlete. It didn't faze him.''

Meanwhile, Byrne said Collins brings a "certain amount of calmness to the team'' in addition to bringing "this amazing passion for what he does'' which has led to a seamless transition as a teammate.

"Ryan is very much in tune with what's going on,'' Byrne said, "and in a very positive way he also has a great perspective on what we do. He kind of has that sense about him.

"Like, 'This is cross country, this is what we do' but we're playing a football game Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio, and what they're doing is a huge deal.

"So let's go watch the game and let's not talk about cross country.''

Byrne endorses that attitude in his athletes.

"From a coach's perspective, they have a great team and school spirit,'' he said. "They're not going to spend Saturday night in a hotel room worrying about what they have to do on Sunday.

"They know what they have to do. They know what Indiana is going to throw at them. They're excited about it. At the same time, for two or three hours Saturday night they're going to be Badgers.''

So they'll be watching Wisconsin-Ohio State from their team hotel, he said.

You can tell Bryne likes this team a lot -- his No. 2-ranked cross country team. Mostly, he likes how his runners compete and take care of their business and "get after it'' every day.

"They do the work, and they're real serious about it,'' he said. "They're real motivated, real determined and real focused on not just this Sunday but what's coming down the pipeline.''

That would be the NCAA championship on Nov. 21 in Terre Haute, Ind. Byrne said Collins has "kind of meshed'' with that vision and his new teammates and "they're all on the same page.''

The Badgers are returning four scorers from last season's Big Ten meet: Mohammed Ahmed (fourth), Elliot Krause (fifth), Maverick Darling (sixth) and Reed Connor (12th). Collins replaces Peacock.

"I believe we've got five guys who have a really good shot at winning the individual title,'' Byrne said. "They're all leaders. Every one of those guys knows what's at stake here and down the road.

"Over the last two meets the most important thing was that we came out of them not banged up. We came out of these meets able to continue with our training plan.

"It's a process as you head from that early part of the season into the championship part.''

Wisconsin has won each of its last three meetings: the Orange and Blue Preview (Champaign, Ill.), the Bill Dellinger Invitational (Springfield, Ore.) and its own Wisconsin adidas Invitational (Zimmer Championship Course).

While the Badgers were competing in Oregon on Oct. 1, there was mini-reunion with a handful of former UW distance greats like Chris Solinsky, Matt Tegenkamp, Simon Bairu and Evan Jager, who joined Byrne's current athletes to take in the football Badgers' win over Nebraska.

"They came down from Portland where they're training,'' Byrne said. "And it's always a positive when our young guys get to see those guys and be around them.''

Success, after all, breeds success.

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The latest issue of Badgers.com was the best yet. I especially appreciated the piece by Lucas with the history of the Badger-Ducks football. What a year to be a Badger fan!!! I now live in NW Washington and it is fun to tell folks I am a fan of the OTHER UW!! (Not to mention being a Packer Backer.) Dale Kimball, an OLD cheesehead who grew up in the Dells where I played left guard - both ways.