Coming off an impressive third place performance in the Big Ten Indoor Championships last weekend in Minneapolis, the Wisconsin men’s track and field team is hoping for much of the same in the Alex Wilson Invitational Saturday.
Although the women’s track and field team will not be competing in the event, it’s a critical one for the men. This is the last event before the NCAA Indoor Championships later this month, and several athletes in the event need to perform well in South Bend, Ind. to qualify for a spot in the national championships.
Since this meet has crucial implications, the athletes who have not qualified for the NCAA Championships yet have to step up their level of competition, or else this could be their final indoor event of the year.
“This is different than the Big Ten meet that we just came off from because it’s less strategic,” junior distance runner Landon Peacock said. “I’m trying to run a fast time in this one, so it’s kind of more even paced and getting at it from the gun.”
Peacock, who won the 5,000-meter race in the Big Ten Indoor Championships last weekend, is one of the athletes hoping to qualify for the NCAAs with a satisfactory time at this meet.
Despite a strong performance at the Big Ten meet, Peacock and his teammates realize it will be no easy task to get the qualification times they need. With such a talented field at the Alex Wilson, Peacock’s strategy is just to keep up with the competition.
“The challenge will be just hanging onto the [leading] pack,” Peacock said. “That whole pack will probably run pretty fast times, so just holding on and maybe having a little bit of luck in the end.”
In other events, Peacock’s teammate Kyle Jefferson, a junior sprinter, also has a lot riding on the Alex Wilson Invitational. Like Peacock, this is Jefferson’s last opportunity to make nationals.
Jefferson finished fifth in the 200 meters last week at the Big Ten championship, with a time of 21.82 seconds. He will have to drop his time to 21.23 to auto-qualify for the NCAA championships.
Despite the importance of this invitational, Jefferson is looking at it as just another race and does not plan on changing anything in particular for this meet.
“Just keep doing what I’ve been doing all along — staying focused, staying relaxed and just go out there and compete. You know, leave it all on the track,” Jefferson said.
Sticking to the usual strategy seemed like a common theme among the team going into this weekend. At this point in the season, the Badgers track and field team is looking to continue what has brought them success thus far rather than changing things up at the end of the year.
The team is looking to keep things simple in the event, and stressing the importance of solid performances over top-place finishes.
“This meet is about running fast or jumping high or throwing far, whatever the case is, more than about what place you get,” men’s track and field head coach Ed Nuttycombe said. “So you, you run with a little more aggressiveness as opposed to a little less tactical.”
Even though Peacock and Jefferson need to use this race to qualify for the NCAA Championships, for other track and field athletes it just serves as a tune up.
Coming off the Big Ten meet, many athletes are competing in the Alex Wilson simply to stay focused and fresh for the upcoming NCAA Championships. Although this role might come with less pressure, this meet still plays an essential role in preparing for the most important race of the year.
“We’re just trying to bridge that competitive gap so that there’s not a weekend in between Big Tens and NCAAs,” Nuttycombe said. “This time of the year you want some continuity.”
With such a wide range of athletes competing in this event — those that have to put it all on the line an those who are simply warming up for the NCAA Championships — it might seem that the meet turns into more of an individual competition. However, the UW men’s track and field squad maintains strong team unity.
“I’m excited about it. I know my team’s excited to go with me and support me as well as I am to support them, and that’s what I’m ready to do,” Jefferson said.