Nov. 1, 2013
2013 Big Ten Championships Central
MADISON, Wis. - All streaks must come to an end, at least that's how the old adage goes.
But don't tell that to Wisconsin head coach Mick Byrne. Losing is not in his vocabulary.
The No. 7-ranked Wisconsin men's cross country team, winners of 14-consecutive conference titles, will look to keep the streak alive at the 2013 Big Ten Championship Sunday at 9:45 a.m. (CT) in West Lafayette, Ind.
"This is the time of year we trained for, the time of year that our student athletes and coaches get excited for," Byrne said in a news conference Monday. "It's Big Ten's, those guys know what's on the line. There's a bit different atmosphere around the locker room and I can certainly feel it already today."
Remarkably, the Badgers have won 31 of the last 36 crowns since 1977, including 25 of the last 28 since 1985. UW's run of 14 straight titles, beginning in 1999, is the longest title streak in conference history.
To put that into perspective, Wisconsin's 14 championships in the last 14 seasons are more than every other Big Ten team has won all-time, with the exception of Michigan State, which has taken home a total of 14 crowns in the 96-year history of the Big Ten meet. In those 96 years, the Badgers have won 46 times, claiming almost 48 percent of the possible team titles.
Wisconsin returns to West Lafayette for the conference meet for the first time since 2002, where it claimed the victory with a team score of 25 points for the program's fourth-consecutive title.
UW has finished first or second in five of the 10 conference meets hosted by the Boilermakers all-time, including three victories in four tries since 1977. The last two times Wisconsin has run at a Big Ten meet in West Lafayette, Ind., it won with a team score of 25 points.
If the Badgers are to keep the streak alive, they must build off their fourth-place finish at the Wisconsin adidas Invitational on Oct. 19.
"Coming out of adidas, the guys have to be feeling pretty good about themselves, Byrne said. "They ran well, but they see that there is even room to run better. We made some mistakes at adidas, there is room for improvement. But we quieted some of the naysayers a wee bit and that's always fun. They have some swagger, and you need that going into a Big Ten championship meet."
Redshirt freshman Malachy Schrobilgen and junior Michael Van Voorhis led the way for UW, finishing 20th and 21st, respectively.
"The improvement and maturity that those guys showed in that race was pretty spectacular," Byrne said.
In addition to heightened expectations for Schrobilgen and Van Voorhis, redshirt senior Rob Finnerty be looked upon to make a significant contribution. Finnerty, who was granted a sixth year of eligibility and came back primarily to keep the streak alive, is one of the few Badgers with significant championship experience. At the 2012 Big Ten Championship, Finnerty finished seventh overall to earn first-team All-Big Ten honors.
"If you were a betting men, to bet against Rob Finnerty in a championship race, you would be a fool," Byrne said. "The adrenaline flows with championship meets and Finnerty is not intimidated by championship races."
The Badgers will also look to senior Alex Brill and junior Alex Hatz, as the duo placed 15th and 23rd, respectively, at last year's championship meet.
Redshirt sophomore Sam Hacker, junior Jacob Erschen and seniors Neal Berman, Jacob Naylor and Drew Shields will round out UW's travel roster, and all five athletes have competed on the conference stage. In 2012, Hacker finished 55th. In 2011, Shields placed 44th, Erschen finished 58th and Berman was 60th. In 2010, Shields crossed the finish line 26th.
Wisconsin must draw on its past Big Ten experience, as the team will be without All-American and All-Big Ten performers Mohammed Ahmed, Maverick Darling and Reed Connor for the first time in four seasons.
Last year, the trio combined for 11 team points, as Darling finished second, Ahmed finished third, and Connor placed sixth.
But Byrne believes that this year's team is confident and ready to capture a 15th-consecutive Big Ten title.
"These guys, coming off the adidas meet, have a lot of confidence," Byrne said. "We feel we got over the hump and they have one thing on their mind and that's to defend their Big Ten championship. Those guys came out and ran and proved at adidas that, `wait a second, don't count us out yet, it isn't over.' We train, we always talk about training for this part of the year, the championship part of the year, for Big Ten's and beyond."
The Badgers know what is at stake when they toe the line at Purdue on Sunday. They realize nothing comes easy, and there are pressures and expectations when a team has won the Big Ten championship 14 times in a row.
"You've got to run Badger tough and the men understand what that means," Byrne said. "When you are wearing that Wisconsin jersey, you've got a huge target on your back and everyone is coming after you. They kind of marvel in that, they love it. They know they're going to be under a lot of pressure as we head out to West Lafayette, but they're excited about that.
"The key is all six or seven guys that go to the line. They all have to perform to the best of their ability for us to win. Any mistakes, and we don't win. It is that simple."