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XC Insider: Pace picks up for Badgers this weekend

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First appeared in Varsity

Though they have a pair of meets under their belts already, the Badgers' season effectively starts this weekend.

The competition steps up for the women's cross country team Saturday in Earlysville, Va.

Cal, Kentucky and Oklahoma will all be in attendance as No. 15-ranked Virginia hosts the Panorama Farms Invitational.

Through two weeks of the season, it's been smooth sailing for the Badgers, who claimed the Badger Opener on Sept. 9 with their top runners competing and then won the Warhawk Invitational last Saturday behind a number of their developmental runners.

"We've had a good start to the season," UW head coach Jim Stintzi said. "Our lineups looked different the first two weeks, but we've learned a little bit about our athletes each time we've raced."

However, this weekend's meet opens a run of three major meets in four weeks for the Badgers. The team's top athletes return to the road next week for the Greater Louisville Cross Country Classic on Sept. 29, a meet that will serve as a preview of the course that plays host to the NCAA championship in November.

After an off week, the Badgers will be set for the fourth-annual Wisconsin adidas Invitational on Oct. 12, which is the highlight of the "regular season" nationally and includes 45 of the top programs from around the country.

"There's no doubt we've got the adidas meet circled," Stintzi said. "It's always big for us to run well on our home course, and it's our last major test before we go to the Big Ten championship. These next few weeks aver very important for us."

Lucas at Large: Buckinghams a showcase for Badgers' best

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- Buckinghams Winners  |  Watch the Show

Wisconsin men's cross country coach Mick Byrne generously described his musical tastes with the confession that "I'm all over the place.''

Byrne has downloaded everything from Real Estate to Bon Iver, from The Cure to Coldplay, from Bruce Springsteen to Eric Hutchinson, from Adele to Mumford & Sons.

Byrne is likely to add to his list after hearing "The Big Shady Trees'' (pictured above) perform Monday night during the fourth annual Buckinghams at the Overture Center.

Elliot Krause was on drums, Zach Mellon was on guitar and Will Ottow was the vocalist for a cover version of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy.''

What was the genesis for the group's name, The Big Shady Trees?

"We're all tall and slim,'' Krause reasoned.

Krause, Mellon and Ottow all run for Byrne and the Badgers. How crazy is that?

"We do have a lot of musical talent on the team,'' Byrne volunteered. "When we go on trips, the guys will sometimes bring guitars and they're singing all the time. It's hilarious.''

Funny thing is, they know when it's time to get down to work -- on the track and in the classroom.

Last November, the Badgers won a national championship in men's cross country, the fifth in school history and first since 2005.

Monday night at the Buckinghams, the highest cumulative GPA team awards went to men's and women's cross country.

"We sit down before the season and as a team determine what goals we would like to set,'' said Caitlin Comfort, a senior from Peoria. "Highest GPA is one of them, and we take a lot of pride in it.''

Elliot Krause, a senior from Appleton, pointed out that athletes are frequently stereotyped -- stigmas are unfairly but routinely attached -- and this type of academic recognition helps dispel myths.

It definitely starts, too, at the top with Byrne.

"Mick's general philosophy is that the whole college experience isn't just about running,'' said Krause, a two-time Academic All-American. "But he doesn't baby us through the process.

"You have to take the initiative and do things yourself.''

Byrne's approach promotes the development of study habits and discipline, Krause said. "He's developing you as a person so when you leave college you can be successful,'' he added.

In February, Byrne's Badgers were cited as the Scholar Team of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.

"When I came here four years ago,'' Byrne said, "one of the challenges that I threw out to the guys was, 'Look, we have to work harder in the classroom.'

"I felt like they weren't putting their best foot forward and I chose to keep on their case about it. We encouraged them and we kicked them in the butt when they needed to be kicked in the butt.

"The end result has been that they've gotten a little bit better every semester.''

The Badgers finished the cross country season with a team grade-point average of 3.08.

"It's not acceptable for them to be below 3.00,'' Byrne said. "That's the least we can ask from them. It's a high standard (academically), but our athletes compete at a high standard.

"If they can do that on the track -- or in cross country -- why can't they do that in the classroom? It certainly starts with me and what my expectations are. But it also comes from the older kids.''

Krause acknowledged the necessity for that kind of accountability and leadership.

"The younger guys, especially the freshmen are always looking up to the older guys,'' he said, "and when they see them taking care of business, on and off the track, that sets a good example.

"It's like, 'These guys are getting it done in the classroom. That's what is expected of me.'''

Comfort was one of the Performance Award winners Monday night. These student-athletes are nominated by their advisors or learning specialists for their academic work and improvement.

"When you come in as a freshman everything is totally new to you,'' Comfort said. "So it's really about getting your feet on the ground and realizing what you're here for.

"Ultimately, you're here to get a degree and obviously athletics comes after that. But it's also about making sacrifices; staying in on the weekends to get homework done.

"It's about coming back to your dorm or your apartment right after practice is over and working on homework. It's about waking up an hour or two early to study some more before a test.

"It's about time management and balancing (academics and athletics).''

But you have to know what your priorities are, she emphasized.

"You'll hear everyone say, 'It's all about balancing your time' and there's a reason everyone says it, and that's because it really is the most important thing,'' Krause said.

"But you also have to give yourself a little bit of time to breath and relax every once in awhile. Mick has this thing about overcooked turkey and how it doesn't taste very good.''

That would be a Byrne metaphor on life whereby he's suggesting that the student-athlete can fall prey to the stress or pressure of expectations within the classroom and on the playing field or track.

"Eventually you're going to overcook yourself,'' Krause said.

In this context, the Buckinghams are a breath of fresh air since they represent a celebration of academic excellence and achievement through community service and other vehicles.

Moreover, there is a special bonding component to the event -- rallying all sports on campus.

"Last year, I got the invite and Mick told me that I should go to the Buckinghams,'' Krause said, "and I was real reluctant. I thought it was another formal event that would be real dry and boring.''

Once exposed to what the Buckinghams are all about, he was hooked.

"I love it,'' Comfort said. "You rarely find all the athletes in one venue at one time. So it's kind of nice to see everybody together -- all the different athletes from all the different sports.

"You get to mingle and you get to catch up.

"It's nice to see everyone dressed up and not in athletic gear.''

Byrne has become a big proponent of the Buckinghams.

"I love this, I absolutely love it,'' he said. "It's a got a great feel about it to the point where I've encouraged all of our kids to go.

"It's good to see that there's a reward for doing well in the classroom; a reward for getting involved in the community; a reward for getting involved in leadership programs.

"That's all good and there's a trickle down affect to all of our athletes.''

There are some unique twists to the Buckinghams, like the red carpet leading into the theater.

There's also the innocence and freshness of the performers.

Whether it's women's hockey player Katy Josephs playing the piano and singing "Only Hope'' by Mandy Moore ...

Whether it's women's rower Kendall Schmidt performing an original tap dance routine to "Turn up the Music'' by Chris Brown.

Whether it's women's cross country's Megan Beers singing "Never Alone'' by Barlow Girl ...

Whether it's quarterback Joel Stave playing the piano and singing "Drops of Jupiter'' by Train...

Whether it's women's cross country's Lavinia Jurkiewicz ballroom dancing with her partner to "Rabiosa'' by Shakira ...

Whether it's linebacker A.J. Fenton playing the guitar and softball player Kendall Grimm singing "Firework'' by Katy Perry ...

Whether it's The Big Shady Trees ...

It all works.

"Any opportunity we get as administrators or coaches,'' Byrne said, "to recognize our student-athletes for their achievements is great, and this is a fun way of doing that."

Rankings show loaded field for Wisconsin adidas Invitational

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By Cristin Fitzpatrick
UW Athletic Communications

This year's Wisconsin adidas Invitational promises to be one for the record books. The University of Wisconsin men's and women's cross country teams play host to the third-annual Wisconsin adidas Invitational on Friday, Oct. 14.

The meet will feature competition from some of the country's top teams. Both men's and women's groups will see two of the top three ranked teams in the country.

Out of the 40 teams competing, the men's section features 19 teams from U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association's national top 30 preseason rankings, including No. 2 Stanford and the host Badgers at No. 3.

The 41-team women's race features 18 of the nation's top 30 teams, including No. 2 New Mexico and No. 3 Providence.

The Badger men took second in last year's competition with a final score of 75 points, led by then-junior Elliot Krause's fourth-place finish. Indiana claimed the team win in the 8-kilometer race with 43 points.

The women pulled out a 15th-place team finish among the 20 teams that competed, including six ranked in the USTFCCCA national poll. Then-junior pacesetter Caitlin Comfort finished strong for the Badgers as the lead finisher among UW runners returning for the 2011 season.

The Zimmer Championship Course looks to some steep competition, with a combined 37 of the country's top men's and women's teams prepared for the gun. That field includes defending men's meet champion Indiana (No. 8) and defending women's champion Syracuse (No. 15).

2011 Wisconsin adidas Invitational
Competing Teams Ranked by USTFCCCA - Men

2. Stanford
3. Wisconsin
4. Oregon
8. Indiana
11. Princeton
12. Northern Arizona
13. NC State
14. Syracuse
16. BYU
17. Villanova
18. Providence
21. New Mexico
22. Georgetown
23. Notre Dame
24. Texas
25. Ohio State
26. Florida
27. Minnesota
29. Arizona State

2011 Wisconsin adidas Invitational
Competing Teams Ranked by USTFCCCA - Women

2. New Mexico
3. Providence
5. Villanova
7. Stanford
8. Arizona
10. Iowa State
11. Washington
12. North Carolina
15. Syracuse
16. Oregon
18. Boston College
21. NC State
22. Princeton
22. Florida
27. Toledo
28. Iowa
29. Michigan State
30. Minnesota

Track & Field News profiles Sisson on eve of NCAAs

With Wisconsin's Emily Sisson set to make her NCAA championship debut Monday in Terre Haute, Ind., Track & Field News has profiled the Badgers freshman.

The feature, penned by Don Kopriva, discusses Sisson's successes and struggles in her first season, with comments from Sisson and head coach Jim Stintzi:

Although Emily Sisson certainly is not favored in Monday's NCAA Cross Country, Wisconsin's prize frosh has proved she's ready to run up front.
...
"It's really important to have confidence in yourself when you're at this level. I used to struggle with confidence and believing in myself, but you have to have the mentality that you're going to win every race you're going into."

You can read the entire story online at www.trackandfieldnews.com.

Sisson and teammate Caitlin Comfort will race at the 2010 NCAA Championship on Monday, with the women's 6-kilometer race set to begin at 11 a.m. UWBadgers.com will have complete coverage.

Badgers recognized by FloTrack readers

The Wisconsin women's and men's track and field teams find themselves receiving accolades in the 2010 FloAwards from flotrack.org.

The UW men were voted as a sleeper pick in the FloAwards, as the Badgers are returning four of their top five teams from last year's seventh-place NCAA team. FloTrack highlights the Badgers' top returnees, including sophomore Mohammed Ahmed and senior Landon Peacock.

Freshman Alex Hatz looks to be a threat in the upcoming indoor seasons according to FloTrack, after receiving 83 votes from fans to earn a spot on the site's FloFrosh rankings. Based on his performance as a high school athlete, the readers ranked him fourth in the FloFrosh rundown.

On the women's side, freshman Emily Sisson is expected to contribute significantly in the upcoming season and earned the top spot in the women's FloFrosh. Sisson's performance in the summer looks to have sky-rocketed her status, as she finished third at the 2009 Footlocker Championships and ran personal bests in both the 3,000 meters and 5,000 meters at the World Junior Championships. Sisson has the fastest 5,000-meter time of any woman in the NCAA field.

Both the UW men's and women's cross country teams will be running this Saturday in the Wisconsin adidas Invitational, and you can catch Emily Sisson among those competing for Wisconsin.

Sneak peek at Favor Hamilton 'Icons' special

Wisconsin legend Suzy Favor Hamilton will be featured Tuesday night as part of the "Big Ten Icons" series on Big Ten Network, a countdown of the top 50 student-athletes in Big Ten history.

Favor Hamilton, a nine-time NCAA champion during her time at UW, checks in at No. 19 on the countdown. Her special, hosted by broadcasting legend Keith Jackson, will air at 8 p.m. Tuesday evening.

Here's a brief glimpse of Favor Hamilton's episode of Big Ten Icons.

Vote early and vote Badger

Jorgensen_Gwen_BT_09_Blog.jpegThe United States Olympic Committee has opened its monthly polls for the top U.S. male and female teams and athletes in May, and a pair of former Badgers are among the choices.

Vote soon, however, because Sunday is the final day to take part in the polls.

Former Badger cross country and track All-American Gwen Jorgensen is up for USOC May Female Athlete of the Month after a runner-up performance in her international debut for USA Triathlon.

Jorgensen finished a very close second at the 2010 World University Triathlon Championships in Valencia, Spain, on May 30.  |  Vote for Jorgensen

You can also vote for Jorgensen's U.S. women's triathlon team, which scored a silver-medal finish at the world university championships, for USOC May Team of the Month.  |  Vote for the U.S. women

Chris Solinsky, a five-time NCAA champion during his days as a Badger, started the month of May with a bang when he shattered the American record in the 10,000 meters with a time of 26:59.60. The performance has him up for USOC May Male Athlete of the Month.  |  Vote for Solinsky
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