May 8, 2013
MADISON, Wis. -- Championship season has arrived for the No. 11-ranked Wisconsin men’s track and field team, which travels to Columbus, Ohio, to compete in the 2013 Big Ten Outdoor Championships this weekend.
The defending Big Ten outdoor champions will compete in the three-day meet at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium in search of their first Big Ten Triple Crown since 2006-07 after winning the league’s cross country and indoor track titles earlier this year.
In addition to Wisconsin ranking No. 11 in the recent U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association national rankings, five other conference teams rank in the top 25, including No. 10 Nebraska, No. 13 Penn State, No. 16 Iowa, No. 21 Ohio State and No. 22 Illinois. Nuttycombe is eager to face such strong competition.
“We're very, very excited about the meet this weekend,” UW head coach Ed Nuttycombe said. “We like to think we're one of the teams that has a chance to win.
“It will be a very competitive meet, and I do think there's quite a few teams that have a chance on their given day to be on top. I think we are one of those.”
Wisconsin returns 14 athletes that scored points at the 2012 Big Ten Outdoor Championships, with two more major contributors to last year’s conference title unavailable. Mohammed Ahmed is redshirting the outdoor season and Japheth Cato is sidelined after rupturing his Achilles tendon.
Despite the absence of two of his “big guns,” Nuttycombe is confident his team has the depth to compete for the championship.
“It does make it much more difficult, but I think that any team that depends upon one athlete is not a very good team, and that's certainly not the case in our situation,” he said.
Wisconsin has three athletes competing this weekend that lead the conference in their respective events.
Senior Maverick Darling ranks No. 1 in the 5000 meters among Big Ten athletes, and fourth nationally, with a time of 13 minutes, 30.40 seconds. Darling, who finished sixth in the 5000 last year, earned All-America honors by placing fourth in the event at the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championships. Teammates Alex Brill, Michael Van Voorhis and Reed Connor will run alongside Darling this weekend.
In addition to Darling, sophomore Alex Hatz tops the conference in the 1500 meters. Hatz won the event at the Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational earlier this year in 3:39.87, the third-fastest time in the nation. Rob Finnerty, Danny Buechel and Matt McKenna will join Hatz in the event.
Not to be forgotten, Brill recorded the fastest 3000 steeplechase in the Big Ten this season by crossing the finish line in 8:50.85. He finished fifth in the event last year and seventh as a junior. Jacob Erschen will also compete in the steeplechase.
“All of those athletes, although those are probably some of the stronger, if not the strongest events in the conference, at a national level, all of those athletes will be, of course, trying to win a title,” Nuttycombe said.
Junior Danny Block leads the way for UW’s throwers, ranking No. 2 in the Big Ten in both the discus and shot put. Block, the defending discus champion, broke his own school record in the event with a throw of 200 feet, 4 inches earlier this season. Fellow throwers Alex Thompson, Andrew Brekke and Scott Erickson are also scheduled in the discus.
In the shot put, Block is seeded second with a throw of 62-3 3/4. The junior won the Big Ten shot put title at the conference indoor meet earlier this year and is the school record-holder in the event after heaving 65-7 1/2 to finish third at the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championships. Brekke will also compete in the shot put.
Ranked No. 6 in the Big Ten, sophomore Garret Payne will run in the 400 meters for UW, alongside junior Drew Simmons, who ranks No. 9. Junior Babatunde Awosika, who ranks No. 11, will also compete in the 400.
The Badgers will also send a quartet of Badgers to compete in both the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
In the distance events, Wisconsin will load up the 800 meters and 10,000 meters. The 800 will feature Zach Mellon, who currently sits No. 9 in the conference, and Austin Mudd, who was an All-American after his third-place and school-record finish in the mile at the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championships.
Mudd has yet to run an 800 outdoors this season but was a second-team All-American as a freshman with an 11th-place finish at the 2012 NCAA Outdoor Championships.
In the 10,000 meters, senior Elliot Krause, the Big Ten runner-up and All-American in the event last year, will join Darling, Brian Leung and Michael Brice.
Wisconsin athletes will look to get off to a strong start when the three-day championships begin Friday at 11 a.m. with the decathlon 100 meters.
Representing UW in the multi-event competition will be redshirt freshman Charlie Foss, who ranks No. 5 in the Big Ten with 6,080 points, and sophomore Zach Ziemek, who claimed All-America honors by finishing fifth in the heptathlon with 5,937 points at the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championships.
Ziemek will also compete in the pole vault. The sophomore is the school record holder in the event after clearing a height of 17-8 1/2 at the NCAA indoor championships.
Since becoming head coach in 1984, Nuttycombe has led Wisconsin to 10 Triple Crowns and 26 Big Ten championships -- including 13 outdoor crowns -- to make him the winningest coach in Big Ten history.
Since 2000, Badgers have claimed 17 Big Ten titles, including eight outdoor championships, totaling three more than the rest of the Big Ten combined. While he recognizes the tremendous accomplishment, Nuttycombe knows he didn’t do it alone.
“I've also been blessed to have a great group of assistant coaches over quite a few years and obviously a committed group of athletes who have helped you produce it,” he said. “No one does that type of thing alone. You have a lot of help.”