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Byrne meets media in advance of NCAA championship

ON WISCONSIN <b>Badgers coach Mick Byrne met with the media Monday to discuss Saturday's 2012 NCAA Championship.</b>
Badgers coach Mick Byrne met with the media Monday to discuss Saturday's 2012 NCAA Championship.

Nov. 13, 2012

Byrne News Conference Small Video Graphic

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin men's cross country coach Mick Byrne met the media Monday as part of UW Athletics' weekly news conference to discuss his No. 4-ranked Badgers' trip to the 2012 NCAA Championship this Saturday in Louisville, Ky.

UW claimed its 11th-consecutive NCAA Great Lakes Regional title last week to secure a record 41st-consecutive trip to the NCAA championship.

Archived video of Byrne's session with the media is available via the link above, and a complete transcript of his remarks can be found below.

MODERATOR: The Badgers men’s cross country team won the Great Lakes Regional title for the 11th-consecutive year with its effort on Friday on the home course. Mohammed Ahmed won the individual title as all five Badgers earned all-region honors. With the win, Wisconsin advanced to the NCAA championship for the 41st-consecutive season, an NCAA record. The NCAA meet will take place on Saturday in Louisville, Ky., and the men's race starts at 12:15 p.m.

Ahmed, Reed Connor and Maverick Darling have each earned All-America honors during their careers.

Head coach Mick Byrne is here. We'll have opening comments and then take questions.

BYRNE: Last few weeks, as you can imagine, have been pretty exciting for all of us. First of all, heading out to the Big Ten meet to defend our title and coming back with the win was awesome and very exciting for our kids.

I've always said that the momentum from winning the Big Ten championship, taking that into the NCAA regional meet, you just can't replace that type of momentum. The kids are excited about it, and they look forward to this time of year, and we've always said that.

Friday's race was also very exciting to win at home, and there was a pretty big crowd out there on Friday. To win without really beating ourselves up was also good looking forward to next week. It certainly helps when you don't have to run yourself into the ground at a regional meet. But, in saying that, we do only have five, six days here before we run the national meet.

So last two meets, the Big Ten and also the regional meet, in terms of the team, great. Winning is very exciting, and the kids get really pumped up about that. But also, from an individual point of view, seeing some of our kids step up -- and we've talked at length about that during September and into the early part of October, and I guess after our dismal performance at the adidas meet -- to see some of these guys step up over the last two meets at the Big Ten and at the regional meet, it's pretty exciting heading into the national meet.

I think we've got some good momentum, and we're excited about heading out on Wednesday to head out to Louisville.

Q. With the adidas meet, it was the same course as the regional. What was different about this one from that adidas meet, and how much growth have you seen from your team?

BYRNE: Oh, tremendous growth. The big thing is we always talk about training for two hard 10Ks like this, the regional meet and the national meet and the Big Ten championship. It's part of our training philosophy.

When we come into a meet like the adidas meet in mid-October, we don't have the legs under us. The guys have got a lot of long tempos and a lot of miles on their legs, and typically we don't run real well at that time of year. So a huge, big difference.

I think, if you sit down and ask the guys, every one of them will say they just felt a lot better, a lot fresher the last couple of weeks, and part of that is cutting out some of the big miles, but it's also getting on the track, doing some fast stuff, getting out on the cross country course and doing some fast intervals. They just feel a lot fresher.

Q. How is it different going to nationals and defending that national championship? Is there something to that as far as having the target on your back at all?

BYRNE: I'm not quite so sure that we're the guys with the target on our back. Last time I looked a    couple of weeks back, looked at the national rankings, we fell from No. 1 to No. 20. I think there's a lot of schools out there that have got pretty good teams.

If you look at the results from around the country over the weekend, certainly, we're one of those teams. I don't know if we have the target on our back this year. I'd like to think that there are one or two other schools out there that people are going to be keying off.

Q. Mick, what is the key to ensuring that everybody peaks at the same time? I'm guessing that's the obvious challenge, but what mechanisms go into that from a coaching standpoint?

BYRNE: I think a lot of it is the kids buying into the philosophy right from day one. That has to be a big part of it. They trust the process. They trust what they do as we go through the season, as we break the season down into periods, and they're pretty comfortable with that, especially the older guys.

When you talk to Maverick, Mo, Reed, a lot of times they talk about the process and the system that we have. The younger guys, it takes them a little bit more time to learn the system. So, obviously, there's a little bit of a learning curve there, and it takes some time for them to believe in the process and trust in the process. Sometimes all it takes is one or two good races.

Q. The NCAA meet traditionally has been held on Mondays, this year moving to Saturday. It takes away a couple of days of recovery for your guys, but just in general, what are your thoughts on that move to Saturday?

BYRNE: I'm definitely not a big fan of running it on Saturday. I voiced my opinion when we took the vote two years ago. I just don't see how it's going to work. I don't see how NCAA cross country has any shot of going up against NCAA football. Certainly, we're not going to get any more spectators out of the Big Ten schools. I don't think we're going to get any more spectators out of the SEC schools, and for that fact, any other conference.

To me, it's just not going to work. We're not going to get more spectators, and we're definitely not going to get more TV time. People are going to still watch college football on Saturday afternoon. It's what we do in the United States, and we're certainly not going to be watching college cross country.

Q. In light of that Mick, what was the rationale for moving it?

BYRNE: I think more spectators. That's one of the arguments I heard, and also TV time. We all know the TV time is not going to happen. We'll have to wait and see what happens with the spectators, but I mean, just from experience, I don't think we're going to get any more spectators down in Louisville than Terre Haute. So I guess we'll just have to wait and see what happens after the weekend.

Q. You talked about the other teams that maybe are wearing a target. I don't think there's any dominant team when you look at the landscape this year, but who are you looking at going into the meet as potentially being favorites?

BYRNE: I'd say right now the favorite is either Oklahoma State or Iona College. Behind them, maybe BYU, Northern Arizona. They're the other two teams that I'm looking at. And also Colorado.

But I would agree that I don't know there's a dominating team right now, just based on results or looking at regional results. But if you just look at the regional results, you'll have a lot of teams backing off, just like we did. So it's very hard to get a good read on what actually happened last Friday at the regional meets.

Q. Oklahoma State makes sense. They've won a couple of national titles. What's with Iona?  Is that a sentimental reason for you?

BYRNE: I don't know if it's sentimental, but I think they have three or four older athletes with a lot of experience that ran in the British university system and are now here in the States running in our NCAA system, and I think that they have a lot of international experience also.

So when you combine that, plus the older you are, the stronger you are. You look at our seniors, and I think that certainly helps, stands in their favor over 10K. Oklahoma State would probably be my second favorite right now.

Q. Mick, when you use the word “dismal” to describe the adidas meet, it makes you wonder if that might have been a soul searching moment for you and your team. Is that accurate?

BYRNE: Yes, I would agree. I think it was coming off last year and winning a national championship, we had five guys last year, and I think even during the process last year we were looking for some younger guys to, not necessarily step up last year, but looking to see what these guys would do this year.

And that didn't happen right away. But, again, if you believe in the process and you trust in the process, when you see the progress that a guy like Rob Finnerty and Alex Brill has made, and to some degree Alex Hatz. Certainly, Finnerty and Hatz are milers (on the track) moving up to 8K and then over to 10K. I think they've done a really good job. We're going to need those guys obviously to step up Saturday big time and continue that improvement.

But I certainly think it's just a matter of wondering when these guys were going to actually step up to the plate, but looking back on it now, adidas is a long time over. I may have been a little upset or got in the heat of the moment right after the battle, but I always knew what was coming down the road, and that's what we train for is “Big Tens and beyond,” and you have to believe in that, and I think the kids do.

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