May 28, 2014
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Fresh off winning the 2014 Big Ten Outdoor Championships, the No. 12 Wisconsin men’s track and field team opens NCAA competition this weekend with the NCAA West Preliminary Round.
The three-day meet, held at John McDonnell Field in Fayetteville, Arkansas, serves as the qualifying event for the 2014 NCAA Outdoor Championships in Eugene, Oregon, June 11-14.
“I don’t think you prepare differently for the meet,” UW director of cross country and track and field Mick Byrne said. “It doesn’t matter, you can put a fancy name on it, whether it’s Big Tens, NCAA preliminary rounds or NCAA championships. It’s all about competition. Every time you go out there you have to compete.”
The Badgers will send 19 athletes to compete in 20 events and have multiple entries in the 1500 meters, 5000 meters, 10,000 meters, high jump, discus and hammer throw. In addition, seniors Danny Block and Mohammed Ahmed, along with junior Zach Ziemek will compete in multiple events.
Ziemek has already earned a spot in the NCAA championships, as he will compete in the decathlon, the only men’s event not held at the preliminary-round sites. He ranks No. 4 nationally in the decathlon with a personal-best score of 7,860.
This weekend, Ziemek will focus on both the long jump and the high jump. He earned season-best marks in both of those events at the Bulldog Decathlon. He soared 24 feet, 5 3/4 inches in the long jump and set a personal-best mark of 6-10 3/4 in the high jump.
Seven Badgers are seeded in the top 12 of their respective events, led by Block. The Hanover Park, Illinois, native is the No. 11 seed in the shot put (62-0 1/4) and the No. 12 seed in the discus (191-3). Block will be joined by Alex Thompson in the discus, as the junior has a season-best heave of 190-1.
“Danny struggled as he’s had an injury, but he comes out every day and works hard every day,” Byrne said. “He’s going to try to go to Eugene to finish out his Wisconsin career. If he pops a good one he will be fine. You don’t know what his injury will bring each day, but he’s going to get into the rings and give it his all.”
Mohammed Ahmed, the 2014 Big Ten Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year, is the No. 3 seed in the 5000 meters. Ahmed became the fourth Badgers runner to clock in below 13:30 in the 5000 meters with a personal-best time of 13:28.02 at the Payton Jordan Invitational earlier this month.
Ahmed, who will also run the 10,000 meters with UW junior Michael Van Voorhis, is joined by Reed Connor in the 5000 meters. Connor is the No. 11 seed in the event with a time of 13:39.34 set at the Mt. SAC Relays.
“At Big Tens the focus was to score points for the team,” Byrne said. “The objective this week is to grab one of the top 12 spots without going to the well so much and move on to Eugene. For Mo, he will have to run the 10,000 meters on Thursday and the 5000 meters on Saturday. So if we wants to go to Eugene, he will have to leave something in the tank. He’s in great form and I think he can qualify in both.”
Michael Lihrman, the 2014 NCAA weight throw champion, is the No. 3 seed in the hammer throw after breaking the Big Ten record in the event with a heave of 233-3 at the Wisconsin Open. His mark also ranks fifth nationally.
“Michael is a great athlete,” Byrne said. “He was a little bummed out he got second at Big Tens, but he’s going to rebound. He is a competitor, he thrives on the competition and I expect him to come out and grab one of the spots to Eugene. He will bring a lot of intensity at the meet.”
UW has two of the top 10 seeds in the 1500 meters in juniors Austin Mudd and Alex Hatz. Mudd ranks fourth in the region after running a personal-best 3:40.16 at the Payton Jordan Invitational, while Hatz’s season-best time of 3:42.10 is the region’s ninth best time. Mudd was a first-team All-American in the event last year, while Hatz was a second-team All-American.
“They both have been down this road,” Byrne said. “They are in an event that you have a lot of great athletes. Everyone in that field thinks they are the best closer in the world.”
Alex Brill will compete in the steeplechase at the preliminary around for the fourth-straight season. The senior is the No. 6 seed in the event after crossing the line in 8:47.32 at the Payton Jordan Invitational.
The top 48 athletes (and 24 relay teams) in each event from the NCAA’s West Region are represented in Fayetteville. The purpose of the preliminary round is to narrow that field down to the 12 athletes (or six relays) that will represent the region at the NCAA championships. There, they’ll combine with the 12 finalists from the NCAA East Preliminary Round, held this weekend in Jacksonville, Florida, to make up the championship field.
The meet begins on Thursday at noon with the women’s javelin, while the men’s 400 hurdles is the first event on the track at 4:30 p.m.