Sept. 5, 2013
MADISON, Wis. -- After finishing runner-up at the NCAA championship a year ago, the defending Big Ten champion and No. 7-ranked Wisconsin men's cross country team opens its 2013 season with the 6-kilometer Badger Opener at the Zimmer Championship Course Friday at 5:30 p.m.
Other teams competing include DePaul, Marquette, Loyola-Chicago, Green Bay and Edgewood College.
At last year's Badger Opener, the Badgers claimed the victory with a team score of 19 points, grabbing five of the top six spots. Junior Alex Brill led UW, claiming the individual title with a time of 18 minutes and 50 seconds. Wisconsin went on to win the Big Ten championship and the NCAA Great Lakes Regional before finishing second to Oklahoma State at the NCAA championship.
Thanks to last year's success, Wisconsin opens the season ranked No. 7 in the preseason U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association National Coaches Poll and also sits atop the rankings in the Great Lakes Region, where the Badgers have won 10 straight regional titles. This season, Wisconsin will look to replace a trio of All-Americans in Mohammed Ahmed, Maverick Darling and Reed Connor. The Badgers return two of its scorers from the national meet in senior Rob Finnerty, who has been granted a sixth year of eligibility, and junior Alex Hatz.
"Every September, it is a new season, it is a new beginning," coach Mick Byrne said. "Rob Finnerty was a big contributor last year, but he had a breakout season last year. He came back for one reason, to lead this team. Alex Brill, who was on last year's team in our six or seven spot, and Alex Hatz are back for us. These guys know the importance of putting on the uniform and working hard every day to carry on the tradition. They are relishing the fact they are not in the supporting role."
Byrne will use Friday's meet to test his new and less-experienced runners in order to help determine who will ultimately join Finnerty, Brill and Hatz when competition heats up in October and November. After a preseason training camp in Door County, Byrne is anxious to see how his athletes translate their training into a live race.
"For the guys that compete, they are competing for a reason," Byrne said. "If you are out there and you are up on the line, you are expected to run like a Badger. That is what we expect. Everyone looks to learn something from the competition."
Specifically, Byrne will be watching redshirt freshmen Malachy Schrobilgen and Russell Sandvold to see if they can elevate their performance and take advantage of their opportunities to contribute this season.
"For guys like Malachy and Russell, they have waited a whole year for this opportunity, for their turn to carry on the tradition and to carry on the winning ways," Byrne said. "It is exciting for me as a coach to see how they respond. The wait is over for those two, and they are very anxious."
Nevertheless, Byrne doesn't want his runners to press too hard or deviate from their training during the first meet of the season. Heading into the Badger Opener, Byrne's goal remains the same: to get his athletes to peak in November.
"It is still an early September meet and you don't want them to come out too excited," Byrne said. "You put a certain mental and physical effort in September. Our goal is Big Ten's and beyond. That is never going to change. We're excited for the new season and hopefully it will end well for us."