We'll be providing updates throughout the opening day of the 2012 NCAA West Preliminary Round in Austin, Texas, as the Badgers chase the opportunity to advance to next month's NCAA outdoor championships.
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Being prepared for move has Krause moving on
By responding well to something he'd seen before, Elliot Krause is headed somewhere he's never been.
The Wisconsin junior anticipated the move that was coming midway through the men's 10,000 meters at the NCAA Preliminary Round and responded with a performance over the closing laps that has him headed to the NCAA outdoor championships for the first time.
Krause clocked in at 30:16.61 for 10th place, while teammate Ryan Collins missed out on an NCAA berth by the narrowest of margins. He came home 13th in a race that sends its top 12 finishers to the national meet.
With a massive, 48-man field running in a single heat, a danger exists for runners who drift back in the pack to get left behind when the leaders decide to pick up the pace. It's something Krause has been on the short end of before -- and something he leaned on his experience to help avoid Thursday.
"I've gotten caught back there before," Krause said. "That's why today I stayed right there to make sure that once there was a move I was going to be able to go with it."
Last year, the season leader at 10,000 meters missed out on an NCAA berth because he lost touch with the front runners at the preliminary round.
"I got caught behind that move and I was able to go with it last year but it's just a lot tougher to move around a lot of people and then hang right on the back," he said. "So this year I put a real main focus on making sure I was ready to be right in the middle of that move when it went."
This time, "the move" when Oregon's Luke Puskedra kicked up the pace with 12 laps remaining in the 25-lap race that had started very slowly.
"When we're running that slow at the start of the race I knew it was going to pick up at some point, so I was just trying to get ready for it," Krause said. "We went and everything kind of single-filed out for two or three laps, and then there was another move where I think five guys or so broke away.
"That second move I couldn't really go with, but I made sure I hopped on that first move."
That was enough to keep Krause among the all-important top dozen, although he did employ a healthy kick over the final 200 meters to secure his spot.
"Two and a half months ago I was definitely not expecting to kick my way into nationals," he said. "It's a little bit of a surprise."
Harper ready to make most of opportunity
Brittney Harper had just enough to get there, but there's no doubt she'll be more than ready.
Harper is moving on in the women's 800 meters at the NCAA West Preliminary Round by the slimmest of margins, picking up the 27th and final qualifying spot for Friday's quarterfinals by running a time of 2:08.93.
She finished fifth in her heat, outside the top three that automatically advanced -- and fell into the group of athletes that would advance -- or not -- based on their finishing times.
It appeared to be no problem in the early stages of the race, with Harper looking strong and running just a stride behind the leader in second. Her hopes faded a bit, however, when she approached the 200-meters-to-go mark.
"I felt really strong for the first part of the race, but then at the last backstretch I started cramping in my right calf and then I kind of pulled back a little bit," she said. "A couple girls passed me and I started getting nervous, so I was like, 'OK, I can't just let this calf get to me.'
"I made the last attempt at the end, and I'm glad I did, because I made it."
In the end, the time was enough to keep Harper's season moving. That's something she couldn't be happier about.
"I'm excited," she said. "I want to go into it hopefully the same way I was at the beginning of the race (today); being up in front."
"Hopefully the calf won't get in the way of this next race and I can place even better with a better time than I did today."
Mudd runs down NCAA leader, quarterfinal berth
Austin Mudd knew their names going into the race. After running against some of the nation's top-ranked athletes, Mudd learned even more -- that he can run with them.
The Wisconsin freshman earned a berth in Friday's quarterfinal in the men's 800 meters at the 2012 NCAA West Preliminary Round, scoring a runner-up finish in his heat in a time of 1:49.76.
The time got him into the next round -- and one race away from an NCAA championships ticket -- but the way in which he achieved it turned some heads.
With what is becoming a characteristic late-race kick, Mudd closed on the lead down the final 100 meters of the race and reeled in Charles Jock of UC Irvine, the NCAA leader at 800 meters.
Mudd finished alongside the senior and was briefly given credit for winning the heat before official timing showed him to be just three-hundredths of a second slower than Jock.
The performance meant an automatic spot in the quarterfinals, but it also meant a little more to Mudd.
"It's a confidence-builder," Mudd said. "I was kicking, I was going all-out and I was inching ahead of everyone a little bit, so that defintely helps my confidence coming down the homestretch."
Mudd faced a difficult question in whether to run the 800 meters or 1500 meters at the preliminary round, as he boasted strong national marks in both events. Thursday, he learned that he and assistant coach Mick Byrne made the right call by choosing the 800.
"I learned to not psych myself out or think about the race too much," Mudd said of the race. "I was three-hundredths of a second behind (Charles) Jock, the NCAA leader. I just need to remind myself that I can run with these guys and put that to work out on the track."
Blyholder's first NCAA appearance is extended
Wisconsin's Liga Blyholder likes NCAA championships competition enough that she plans to stick around for a couple more days.
Despite some anxious moments, the sophomore's bubble didn't burst Thursday. In the end, her time of 4:29.76 at the NCAA West Preliminary Round was enough to secure the final qualifying spot for Saturday's quarterfinal round in the women's 1500 meters.
"I thought I was done," Blyholder said. "I definitely didn't run the race I wanted to and, after finishing, I thought I was done.
"I went on my cool-down and then went back and checked my phone and realized that I was actually in and took the last spot."
Blyholder ran in the first of four heats and crossed the line sixth -- one spot shy of the all-important top five that automatically earned the right to advance. Instead, she was forced to wait through the next three sections to see if her time would stand as one of the four fastest non-automatic marks.
In the end, it did.
Several athletes ran slower times -- including four over 4:30 -- but Blyholder went down as qualifier No. 24 out of 24 as the holder of the fourth-fastest non-automatic qualifying mark.
"I wasn't happy with my race and I didn't want to end my season that way," Blyholder said, "so to get a second chance to run and another chance to make nationals is great."
Regardless of how narrow the margin, she will race for an NCAA championships berth on Saturday knowing she's capable of matching the 4:19.65 she turned in to finish fifth at the Big Ten championships.
"It's definitely a learning experience," Blyholder said. "I'm still trying to get used to collegiate running and how to stay calm in competition like this."
"I learned a lot from the race."
Different approach, same result for Finnerty and Connor
One led from the start, one tried desperately to get to the front -- and both will be racing again on Saturday at the NCAA West Preliminary Round.
Junior Rob Finnerty looked confident and in control as he paced the opening heat of the men's 1500 meters on his way to winning the opening section in 3:45.98 to automatically advance and set the tone for the event.
Sophomore Reed Connor, on the other hand, had to turn to his trademark -- the open-handed arm pumping known among the Badgers simply as "The Blades" -- to finish sixth in his heat and eek out a qualifying spot based on his time of 3:50.55.
In the end, the result was the same. Both Badgers will look to race their way on to the NCAA outdoor championships in Saturday's quarterfinal round.
"I didn't want to screw around and I knew there weren't five guys in that field that could beat me if I ran my race," Finnerty said. "It worked."
The top five finishers in each of the four first-round heats advanced to the quarterfinals automatically. After, the next best four times moved on.
That's where Connor came in.
"I'm running the 1500 now, so I decided I'd try to run like a 1500-meter guy," joked Connor, a middle-distance convert who was the Big Ten champion at 5000 meters last year. "That isn't really my true race, and I learned out there today that I have to go for the strength side of that 1500."
While Finnerty quickly turned his attention to what comes next -- "It was just about taking care of business today," he said -- Connor considered his close call as a beneficial lesson.
"As confident as I am in 'The Blades' they can only do so much in this kind of race," he said. "I have to come out here on Saturday and run a strong race from the front and then rely on 'The Blades' after that.
"Racing 1500 meters is different in the championship style and I'm learing a lot," he added. "I've got to keep on learning or the season's going to be over real quick."
Plank, Bughman miss cut in 400 hurdles
The Badgers' duo of junior Grant Bughman and senior Patrick Plank fell just short of advancing through the preliminary round in the 400-meter hurdles.
The pair ran nearly identical times -- a 52.73 for Bughman out of Heat 5 and a 52.76 for Plank in Heat 6 -- but ended up about two-tenths of a second short.
Bughman was 31st overall, with Plank finishing 32nd. The top 27 advanced on to the national quarterfinal on Friday.
Both have battled injuries, with Bughman sidelined for most of the 2011 outdoor season and slowed in this year's indoor campaign, while Plank was running on an injured hamstring suffered two weeks ago during the 4x100 relay at the Big Ten championships.
Smith becomes first Badger to advance
Taylor Smith wasted little time in becoming the Badgers' first qualifier out of the NCAA West Preliminary Round.
Smith threw 53 feet, 2 1/4 inches to score a ninth-place finish in the women's shot put -- a mark the junior hit on the second of her three first-round throws.
Her teammate, Kelsey Card, also advanced to the final round but finished 16th at 51-4 1/2 -- with the top 12 finishers advancing to next month's NCAA championships in Des Moines, Iowa. Junior Jasmine Boyer finished 25th with a mark of 49-2 1/2.
Getting the big mark out of the way early was a relief for Smith, who knew she had done enough to advance and could cruise through her three final-round throws with no pressure.
"It was really nice," Smith said. "It was getting really hot and I'm pretty tired and hungry, so it was good to get it done."
The League City, Texas, native is no stranger to the mid-90s heat that competitors faced on the first afternoon of competition in Austin. Still, it added another element of challenge for some of the first competitors to take the field at Mike A. Myers Stadium.
"I guess because I grew up here I'm supposed to be used to it, but you never get used to the heat," Smith said. "It's still pretty tough."
The shot put was the first of two events for Smith, who also will compete in the discus at 11 a.m. Friday. Successfully navigating the first is something Smith hopes will help her in her second competition of the week.
"It's a little bit easier and less stressful now," Smith said. "When I overthink, nothing goes well, so I'm just going in relaxed and looking to do what I need to do to get to nationals."