Nov. 14, 2013
MADISON, Wis. – The No. 19-ranked Wisconsin men’s cross country team saw one streak come to an end two weeks ago, but it plans to extend a couple of others when they host the 2013 NCAA Great Lakes Regional on Friday at the Thomas Zimmer Championship Course.
Despite losing the Big Ten championship on Nov. 3 for the first time since 1999, halting the longest run of consecutive titles in conference history, the Badgers look to claim their 12th-straight regional championship to earn an automatic bid to the 2013 NCAA championship and extend its NCAA-record for consecutive championship appearances to 42.
“You get knocked off the horse a bit and we certainly did at the Big Tens, but again, having that opportunity to make amends and do it all over again is kind of exciting,” Wisconsin Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Mick Byrne said.
“I think we can learn from that experience, and I think these young guys will do that. They know that, hey, the streak's over. It's a Big Ten streak. And that's kind of taken some pressure off them, and I think going into this week, it's just a matter of, hey, let's execute a good race plan, and we can advance to the national meet.”
Wisconsin’s run of 11 straight crowns is the longest championship streak in Great Lakes Regional history, which dates back to the NCAA’s adoption of the regional format in 1972. All-time, UW has claimed a record 28 NCAA Great Lakes Regional championships. Notre Dame ranks No. 2 with four team championships.
The Badgers play host to the regional meet for the second year in a row and just the third time since 1974. Prior to last season, UW hadn’t hosted an NCAA cross country event since the 1978 NCAA Championship at Yahara Hills Golf Course in Madison, an event in which the team finished third.
The men’s 10-kilometer race starts at noon and will feature 30 teams, including No. 11 Indiana, No. 16 Michigan and No. 22 Notre Dame. Wisconsin will get another chance to run against the two Big Ten teams that beat them two weeks earlier.
“It's a great opportunity,” Byrne said. “You know, the great thing about our sport is we get to do it again and get that opportunity to take on Indiana and Michigan. I think it's certainly motivated them. I don't think that Indiana or Michigan were that much better than us, I just think they outsmarted us.”
Last year, the Badgers won the regional crown with a winning score of 43 points, led by senior Mohammed Ahmed’s first-place finish in 30 minutes, 37 seconds. Fellow seniors Maverick Darling and Reed Connor finished fifth and sixth, respectively.
This season, Wisconsin returns four of its seven runners from last year’s championship team, including senior Alex Brill and redshirt senior Rob Finnerty, who finished 15th and 16th in identical times of 31:29 to earn All-Great Lakes Region honors, senior Jacob Naylor and junior Alex Hatz.
In addition, the Wisconsin will look for redshirt freshman Malachy Schrobilgen and junior Michael Van Voorhis to be the first Badgers to cross the finish line and continue their impressive seasons.
Schrobilgen, fresh off a Big Ten individual crown, became the first UW athlete to win both Big Ten Athlete of the Year and Freshman of the Year in the same cross country season. He is just the third conference runner to achieve the feat since the Big Ten began giving out awards in 1987, joining Michigan’s Kevin Sullivan (1993) and Indiana’s Bob Kennedy (1988).
“He's running with great maturity and confidence,” Byrne said. “The way he handles the explosive injection of pace at the Big Ten meet shows an incredible maturity in a young man who's still only a freshman.
“As a freshman, being Big Ten champion, we haven't had that around here in quite a while. When you look down the list of great distance runners that we've had here at the university that were not able to accomplish and become a Big Ten champion, accomplish what Malachy did last week, I mean time will tell how good he is. Time will tell when there's still going to be a lot of running to do next Friday and also at the NCAA Championships.”
Byrne credits Schrobilgen’s success to experience gained from his runner-up finish at the USA Cross Country Championships in February that secured him an opportunity to represent his country at the World Cross Country Championships in Poland.
“Having had the opportunity earlier this year to run at the World Cross Country Championships and represent the United States I think he has done amazing and it has given him a tremendous amount of confidence,” Byrne said. “And he's taken that confidence into his training the latter part of his freshman academic year and through the summer, and we saw the result of that this past weekend.
“So I think certainly the strength that he gained from this past year redshirting, having that opportunity to redshirt, having the opportunity to go to Poland and represent the United States has just taken him to another level. I think, in our sport, confidence is huge. My wish for Malachy is to continue to get strong, continue to improve, and down the road, in the next year or two, I think we'll see what he is capable of doing.”
Van Voorhis, who finished 13th at the Big Ten championships, has placed in the top two for Wisconsin in every race this season. On Oct. 1 he was named the Big Ten Athlete of the Week after a top-10 finish at the competitive Coast-to-Coast Battle in Beantown.
Schrobilgen, Van Voorhis and Hatz each earned All-Big Ten honors after their performances at the conference meet, and the team’s success will likely hinge on their ability to produce a similar result.
Wisconsin hopes to qualify for the 2013 NCAA Championship in Terre Haute, Ind., on Nov. 23 by securing one of the automatic bids that comes with at top-two regional finish. The Badgers have qualified for every championship meet since 1972 and look to extend their NCAA-record streak of 41 consecutive appearances.
However, Byrne believes his team has done enough this season to earn an at-large bid Wisconsin finishes third or fourth overall.
“We feel we are in a pretty good position to advance to the NCAAs,” Byrne said. “We've accumulated some points for the at large consideration and feel pretty good about that. It kind of takes a little bit of the pressure off. However, I'd rather be an automatic qualifier than to have to wait for that phone call on Saturday evening.”
But don’t be mistaken. When the Badgers toe the line on Friday they will be running to win. After losing their Big Ten title streak, the team is even more motivated to capture a 12th-consecutive regional title and a 42nd-straight NCAA championship appearance.
“Qualifying for the NCAA meet is a big deal,” Byrne said. “It means we're not going to pay a lot of attention to what anyone else is saying. We know what we have to do. We have to be very solid on Friday. We have to get five men on the same page, competing hard, and represent the university.”