Nov. 21, 2013
• NCAA Championship Stream | NCAA Championship Meet Central
MADISON, Wis.-- Mick Byrne, the director of track & field and cross country, and Jim Stintzi, the head coach of the women’s cross country team, challenged the squad heading into the NCAA Great Lakes Regional last weekend.
In order to earn an at-large bid and qualify for the NCAA championships for the second time in three seasons, the women’s team likely needed a top-five finish.
Indeed, the cross country team answered the bell, placing fifth overall, guaranteeing the program’s 25th NCAA championship appearance after being selected as one of 13 at-large teams selected to fill out the 31-team championship field. As a result, the women will toe the line Saturday at 12:15 (CT) at the six-kilometer LaVern Gibson Championship Course in Terre Haute, Ind.
“That was a great job last Friday on our women's side,” Byrne said in a press conference Monday. “They really had their backs up against the wall. Our women showed great poise, great maturity, and a lot of patience out there.
“I’m very happy for our women’s squad. They have hung in there all season and on Friday they ran like they truly wanted to be in the national meet. Coach Stintzi and I are very proud of them.”
Sophomore Emma Lisa Murphy led Wisconsin, just as she has all season, finishing 13th overall in 20 minutes, 38 seconds. Murphy has finished first or second for UW in every race this season, and earned All-Big Ten honors after placing 17th at the Big Ten championships. She has established herself as the leader of the team, and the Badgers will count on her on Saturday.
“Emma-Lisa Murphy leading that group did a fantastic job up front, staying up with the leaders, and leading this team into the NCAA meet,” Byrne said. “She's only a sophomore, and to be able to handle that is a great job.”
The Badgers women are headed back to Terre Haute, Ind., for the sixth time in the city's nine-year run as host of the NCAA meet, all of which have come under head coach Jim Stintzi. UW has three top-20 NCAA finishes under Stintzi, including a fourth-place showing in 2006.
The Badgers will be making their first trip to the NCAA meet since 2011, where the team finished 24th. Then sophomore and current senior Gabi Anzalone was the third athlete to cross the line for UW, placing 127th in 21:14.6. Anzalone has had a challenging and injury-riddled season thus far, but hopes to use her championship experience to help elevate a young and inexperienced team.
In order to be successful, Wisconsin will need significant contributions from a pair of young, but talented freshmen. Sarah Disanza, who has never finished worse than second for UW, and Molly Hanson finished 21st and 28th, respectively, at the Great Lakes Regional, running with poise and confidence that should translate well for the NCAA championships.
“They’re very young, and the fact that they were able to run with such poise I think speaks volumes for where they've come over the last two or three meets,” Byrne said. “They went into Saturday's race knowing exactly what they had to do, and they did a great job with that. Sarah over the last kilometer ran great. She's only a freshman, and she's going to be very good down the road.”
Earlier this season, Byrne believed the Badgers seemed to be competing against each other, rather than together as a team. After the regional meet, he is beginning to change his mind.
“The girls ran together for the first 4k and there was no separation between them, and that was exciting to see that,” Byrne said. “They seemed to understand the concept and the benefit of running together as a team.”
Wisconsin has prior experience with Saturday’s course. In September, the team scored a perfect 15 points at the Sycamore Invitational in Terre Haute. Disanza led UW, claiming the individual title in 18:23.5.
Stintzi said the course would be demanding, but his squad would benefit later in the season from having run the challenging course once before.
On Saturday, after qualifying for the 2013 NCAA Championships, Wisconsin will put that knowledge to the test.