Nov. 21, 2013
• NCAA Championship Stream | NCAA Championship Meet Central
MADISON, Wis. -- Every year, Mick Byrne’s goal is the same.
As he does each year, the Wisconsin head coach prepares his cross country team to race for “Big Ten’s and Beyond.” The early season meets are important, but he makes sure his runners don’t lose sight on the bigger picture. The focus is always consistent: to get his athletes in peak form for championship season.
After finishing third at the Big Ten championships and second at the Great Lakes Regional, the No. 17-ranked Wisconsin men’s cross country team looks to run its best race of the season when it toes the line Saturday at 11 a.m. (CT) for the 10-kilometer 2013 NCAA Championships in Terre Haute, Ind.
The Badgers will be making their NCAA record 42nd-consecutive championship meet appearance, qualifying every year since 1972, when the regional format was introduced. Wisconsin holds a record 22 top-three national meet finishes and has placed in the top 10 each of the past 17 seasons.
“Making it for the 42nd-consecutive year is very exciting,” Byrne said. “It just speaks to the tradition that we have here at the University of Wisconsin.”
UW has a pleasant history with the LaVern Gibson Championship Course. In 2011, the last time the NCAA meet was held in Terre Haute, Wisconsin claimed its fifth national title, using a team score of 97 points to dethrone two-time defending champion Oklahoma State.
Earlier this season, the team gained some valuable experience on the course they will encounter on Saturday. In September, Wisconsin competed in Terre Haute for a dual meet with Indiana State at the Sycamore Invitational. The Badgers won the meet, but more importantly, they got a feel for the course, albeit two kilometers shorter than the race they will run at the NCAA meet. Byrne said the course was deceptively difficult and hopes his athletes will utilize that knowledge this weekend.
Byrne believes the NCAA championships are unpredictable and that each of the 31 teams participating has a chance to make its mark on history.
“It’s going to be close this weekend,” Byrne said. “You’re running against 31 of the best teams in the country and the best athletes in the country. You look down that line and only some kids can handle it. Some coaches can handle it, some can’t. It’s a different beast altogether.”
Five Badgers earned All-Great Lakes Region honors by finishing in the top 24 last week, and Byrne hopes to get a similar performance out of his squad on Saturday. Redshirt freshman Malachy Schrobilgen and junior Michael Van Voorhis have established themselves as the leaders of the team and Byrne expects them to run near the front of the pack at the NCAA meet.
Junior Alex Hatz and seniors Jacob Naylor and Alex Brill will likely round out UW’s top five, and they will need to run with consistency if Wisconsin hopes to secure another podium finish.
Van Voorhis, Brill, Hatz and redshirt senior Rob Finnerty all have experience running at a championship-caliber meet. At the 2012 NCAA Championships in Louisville, Ky., where the Badgers earned a runner-up finish with a team score of 135, the quartet ran behind senior All-Americans Mohammed Ahmed, Reed Connor and Maverick Darling.
Finnerty finished 49th overall and fourth for UW in Louisville, and the Badgers hope they can get a similar effort out of the sixth-year senior. Hatz rounded out the scoring for Wisconsin in 2012 by finishing 113th overall.
UW knows what’s at stake on Saturday. While most of the team lacks the experience of scoring points for Wisconsin on the national stage, each athlete has made strides as the season has progressed. If seven Badgers can run their best race of the year in Terre Haute, they team can challenge for a podium finish. According to Byrne, Wisconsin has shown the toughness to do so.
“It's about getting mentally and physically prepared for what's coming down the road here,” Byrne said. “At the national championships, anything can happen.”