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Byrne meets media as Badgers prepare for NCAA championship

ON WISCONSIN <b>Head coach Mick Byrne addressed the media Monday</b>
Head coach Mick Byrne addressed the media Monday

Nov. 15, 2011

MADISON, Wis. -- Wisconsin men's cross country head coach Mick Byrne reflected on the success of the No. 1-ranked Badgers this season, and looked ahead to the NCAA championship, during his press conference Monday at Camp Randall Stadium.
Archived video of the media session is available through the link above, and a complete transcript of Byrne's remarks can be found below.

BYRNE: Since we last visited, we have two titles under our belt, the Big Ten Championship, obviously our 13th consecutive, and also the Great Lakes meet this past weekend. We can just talk a little bit about those titles. Obviously, winning our 13th-consecutive Big Ten meet was a lot of fun. I guess we can always say that, you know, winning a conference championship is fantastic. The kids don’t get tired of that. I certainly don’t get tired of that.

To win in the dominating fashion that we did win that meet, I know on paper it looks like we kind of walked away with it and it was an easy meet, but Indiana certainly came at us and gave us a great, great competition. We really only put that meet away over the last 2K. So all credit to (Indiana’s) guys. They’re a great team, great athletes. And they really made us work for that title. I know the end result it doesn’t look like that, but they certainly gave us a run.

And again, this past weekend, at the Great Lakes Regional, although the intensity of the Big Ten championship wasn’t quite there, we spent most of the race looking at Indiana, they spent most of the race looking at us, who’s going to make a move first. And at the end of the day, none of us really did. We kind of went in there, did what we needed to do to advance to the national meet. And guys came out of it in pretty good shape, and that was the objective.

So on we go to next weekend.

QUESTION No. 1: You’re ranked your No. 1, Mick, does that make you the favorite or not?

BYRNE: No. Let’s face it. There’s four or five great teams. Being ranked No. 1, you’ve got to get out there next weekend and you’ve got to get five guys across the line before anyone else. We’re looking forward to this opportunity. We’re looking forward to the challenge. Certainly last year’s champion, Oklahoma State, two-time champion Oklahoma State, I mean, on paper, everybody knows they’re certainly the team to beat.

They haven’t run one of their top guys yet. I know Coach (Dave) Smith from Oklahoma State has said that he’s not running, but they probably have a few tricks up their sleeve for next weekend. So we’re expecting that he probably will run.

Oklahoma, Martin Smith’s team, former Badger, they’re a real good club, too. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State kind of had the same type of meet that we at the regional meet on Saturday with Indiana. They kind of just cruised through it and didn’t look like they exerted too much energy.

Certainly Colorado is real good. They’ve got some big guns up front just like any of the top four teams, and we expect they’re going to have a good run at it also. And Stanford, a perennial powerhouse.

So it’s going to come down next Monday to which team gets the top five guys across the line first. We’d like to think that we have a shot at that, but I’m going out on a limb today and definitely putting Oklahoma State as the pre-race favorite. They’ve got to be, two-time defending champion. They’re not going to hand that to anybody.

QUESTION #2: Hey, Mick, do you feel like this team is the most prepared of your four squads that you’ve had here at Wisconsin heading into the NCAAs?

BYRNE: I’d say so. And it’s not just the physical part of that preparation, the training, the mental part is huge. We’ve always stressed that. These guys, they’re well prepared mentally. They know what’s coming down the pike here on Monday. They are seasoned veterans at this meet.

You take a guy like Maverick Darling, Mohammed Ahmed, Reed Connor, Elliot Krause, they’ve done well at this meet. They know what the expectations are once that gun goes off, and they’re prepared for that. And we talk about that all the time. That’s a huge part of our preparation. It has been since July 1. And we kind of coach that as much as we coach the physical part. So, hopefully, it’s going to stand to their favor.

QUESTION #3: And what are your expectations for your team heading into the meet?

BYRNE: To go there and compete, as we always say, compete Badger Tough. Do the best they can on the day. And try to get five guys across the line before Oklahoma State, before Oklahoma, and before Colorado and Stanford.

QUESTION #4: You guys are hosting the Great Lakes Regional next year. Has there been any talk of hosting the national title race in the future?

BYRNE: Well, we’ve spoken about it. It’s no secret that that’s the plan. So when bids come out for 2013 and ’14, we definitely have our name in there. So, yes, we hope to bring the meet to Madison within the next couple of years.

QUESTION #5: A couple of weeks ago, you had mentioned that you thought Mohammed Ahmed had a chance to win the individual national title. Why do you believe that’s the case?

BYRNE: He just has more training under his belt this year. He started much earlier than he has in previous years for a few reasons. And he’s in great shape. In order for us to be successful as a team, we’re going to have to have one or two individuals up there competing against the top teams that are in contention. And certainly Mohammed has shown all season long that he can do that.

I think Maverick Darling can, I think Reed Connor can, Ryan Collins certainly can, and Elliot Krause can. So, but they’re going to have to show up with their A game and compete against the top individuals from these top teams that we’re competing against. Mohammed certainly showed that at the Big Ten meet, particularly over the last 2K, which is important. And when you get to Terre Haute, the race really begins at 8K.

QUESTION #6: I had a chance to talk to Mohammed last week, and he said he’d rather win a team title than the individual title. What does that say about him and the team you have?

BYRNE: I think if you were to ask any of those five guys, they would all say the same thing. It’s worked so far this season running together as a group. They get a lot of comfort out of that. They get a lot of drive, passion, commitment. They kind of get a lot of energy out of each other. And I think they’ll continue to do that.

I’ve said it all along, they have a great ability to read a race. They get into a great comfort zone once they’re together as a group. Not that next Monday when you’re going to fight for a national title that you’re going to be in a comfort zone, but you certainly have to stay within yourself for a good part of this course.

The Terre Haute course is very challenging, a lot of long hills. They’re familiar with the course, obviously. And, I think just the fact that they want to win this title. We haven’t had a title here since, what was it, 2005. So, if you ask any one of these guys why they came here, that’s what they came for.

And they’re committed to doing that, they’re committed to getting after it. But I think it’s very important for us not to… I’m certainly not going to define this team based on one race next week. I think the important thing is they have defined themselves already as a team. And their success this season so far speaks volumes for their commitment and their passion for being Badgers.

I think it’s very important, no matter what happens out there next Monday, these guys are great athletes, they’re committed to the program, they’re committed to the philosophy, they’re committed to me as their coach, and I think we have to look at the whole volume of work and the results from the past, this past season, when we define who these kids are.

Let’s not lose (sight of the) fact, they are 18 and 20, 21, 22-year-old college kids, very committed to going and trying to win the national title next week, but at the end of the day, hopefully we can pull it off. But let’s not define them as the team that did or did not.

QUESTION #7: Mick, having said all that, how aware are you of the legacy that you have here, that that’s what you’re defined by is winning national championships. And all the coaches that have come before you have done that and kind of set the bar pretty high for you?

BYRNE: Well, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again that, part of what I teach is, you’ve got to get out there every day and be passionate about what you do. And ultimately, yes, we’d love to win the national title and we’re going after it. We’re as committed to doing that as any other program. But I’ve always said that you have to enjoy the pursuit. If all you’re looking at is the end result, there’s only going to be one national champion next week. Hopefully, it’s us. But you look back, and if that’s all you’re going to be remembered by, it’s not what I’m about. I don’t think it’s what this team is about.

I think next Tuesday, you ask these guys did they have fun together this year, did they get after it, is there anything they would change, and I think you’d be surprised what they’ll say. And I think that’s what it’s about. It’s about the pursuit of that goal, enjoying the day-to-day hard work.

When you look back, July 1, when these guys started, just coming off an outdoor season in preparation for this -- it’s very easy for us right now today and look forward seven days down the road, as we get so close to this competition -- but put yourself in their shoes, go back to July 1 when they’re four and five months out from the competition.

Everything that they put into this, that’s what I’m about, that’s what this team is about. Enjoy the daily pursuit of what you’re doing. Because then, ultimately, you will enjoy the goal, whether it’s first place, second place, third place, fourth place.

Yes, there’s tremendous history here. It’s the reason I came here. I’m aware of that. The kids are aware of that. It’s the reason they’re Badgers. But ultimately, at the end of the day, you’ve got to enjoy what you do.

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