Feb. 21, 2013
MADISON, Wis. -- Championship season has arrived for the No. 10-ranked Wisconsin men's track and field team, which travels to Geneva, Ohio, to compete in the 2013 Big Ten Indoor Championships on Friday and Saturday.
The defending Big Ten outdoor champions, who finished fifth at the indoor championships last year, will compete in the two-day meet at the SPIRE Institute. The facility features a fast eight-lane, 300-meter track and will be the first Big Ten championship ever hosted at a neutral, non-university site.
"It is going to be a very interesting scenario for us being in a neutral site," UW head coach Ed Nuttycombe said. "There's no question there's going to be a lot of great, great performances because the facility is just going to allow that to happen."
The Big Ten leads all conferences with four teams ranked in the top 10 of the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association national rankings, including No. 5 Nebraska, No. 7 Penn State, No. 9 Indiana and the 10th-ranked Badgers. Minnesota is also nationally ranked, coming in at No.15.
Despite the stiff competition, Nuttycombe believes his team has what it takes to be in the mix for its first indoor conference title since 2008.
"We're going to try to improve on that fifth place from last year," Nuttycombe said. "I think there are a number of teams that have a shot at perhaps winning. We're one of those, and we're going to go and give it our best."
Under Nuttycombe, UW has scored top-five finishes in 27 of 28 Big Ten indoor championships, including 20 top-three finishes and 12 titles. The Badgers return 16 athletes that scored points at the 2012 Big Ten Indoor Championships, including two-time defending heptathlon champion Japheth Cato.
The junior, seeking to win the event for a third-consecutive year, is the Big Ten record holder in the heptathlon, scoring 6,082 points in a runner-up finish at the 2012 NCAA Championships.
Cato enters the conference meet with the best mark in the Big Ten and ranks third best nationally, tallying 6,024 points at the Frank Sevigne Invitational on Feb. 1-2. With the performance, he now owns the top four marks in conference history and became just the third collegian to top the 6,000-point threshold multiple times.
Despite the accolades, Cato has shown no complacency. Nuttycombe praised the junior for the work he has put in leading up to the meet.
"Cato's had his best two weeks of training all year long," Nuttycombe said. "Probably his best two weeks of training ever these past couple of weeks."
Fellow junior Danny Block is also coming off a remarkable performance this season. Block won the shot put at the Red & White Open on Feb. 15 with a school-record and Big Ten-leading heave of 63 feet, 5 1/2 inches. The mark is a personal best and ranks sixth nationally. He finished second in the shot put at last year's Big Ten indoor meet.
The Badgers will also look to maximize their points in the distance events behind a group of talented and experienced runners, including seniors Maverick Darling, Rob Finnerty and Elliot Krause, junior Mohammed Ahmed and sophomores Austin Mudd and Alex Hatz.
Darling is off to a great start this season after returning from an injury-riddled junior year. He leads the conference in the 5000 meters after finishing in 13:38.71 at the Husky Classic on Feb. 8.
After redshirting the 2012 indoor season, Ahmed is also hitting his stride. He ranks No. 2 in the Big Ten at 5000 meters with a personal-best time of 13:40.43 at the Husky Classic.
Both are also entered to compete in the 3000 meters.
Mudd has also had some notable performances this season. The sophomore broke the four-minute barrier to win the prestigious Meyo Mile in a time of 3:59.33, but will compete this weekend in the 800 meters. He enters as the No. 2 seed for the 800 after clocking in at 1:48.24 at the Husky Classic.
"That group of runners in the distance area, those guys are very talented," Nuttycombe said.
The 30th-year head coach expects his Badgers, Penn State and Minnesota to chase meet favorite Nebraska for the title.
"I think you'd have to go with Nebraska as being the odds-on favorite simply because they have more people in more areas than any of the other teams," Nuttycombe said. "They're not so good that they can't be beaten by perhaps Penn State, Minnesota or Wisconsin, but those are the four best teams going in on paper.
"I would think they would be the top four in hopefully some order, and we're going to try to do the best we can that the order starts with Wisconsin."