No, the end of the world is not looming, but Wisconsin men’s cross country coach Mick Byrne considers today to be a judgment day of sorts, at least with regards to his team.
That’s because today is the fourth-annual Wisconsin Adidas Invitational, and not only will there be great competition between the 46 men’s teams involved, but the meet should all but decide what Badger runners will be donning the cardinal and white when the championship season begins.
“[Today] is the day of judgment for the younger guys,” Byrne said. “This decides who moves onto the Big Tens, which basically decides who’s going to go to regionals and nationals … this picks the team for the rest of the year.”
The Wisconsin Adidas Invitational is the last meet before Wisconsin begins its championship season, which is why the invite has such big implications for who gets to run the rest of the season for the Badgers. It is the last chance for many runners to make their case as to why they should be included in the quest for another Big Ten and national title.
In Byrne’s perspective, there are six guys competing for the final two scoring spots, as cross-country is scored by adding the first five places, with the lowest total winning the team competition. Currently, Mohammed Ahmed, Maverick Darling and Reed Connor occupy the top three spots, so there will be a heated battle to claim the final two positions.
Although it is a little worrisome that his team has yet to be finalized for the championship season, Byrne likes the idea that each individual runner’s fate is in his own hands at this point.
“I don’t pick the team, the team picks itself. They’re the ones that have to get after it,” Byrne said. “If they want to hold each other’s hands and walk out [on the course] and be all goody-goody two shoes with each other that’s fine, but that’s not going to win any championship races. And it’s a good position to be in because when you have competition on the team, that makes you a good team.”
Along with competing against each other, today’s race also offers the Badgers the opportunity to compete against some of the best teams and individuals in collegiate cross-country. There will be 19 of the top 30 teams in the nation at the meet, which includes the likes of perennial cross-country powers Oklahoma, Iona, Portland and Stanford. With such top-level competition, the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational is clearly one of the premier meets of the year in the college game.
Senior captain Maverick Darling, who has been at Wisconsin since the invitational started, thinks the meet is beneficial for preparing for the championship season, but it is also good for the growth of cross-country in the area.
“It’s great to see the meet grow that quickly to what it is now and to be able to have that great of competition between such great teams from across the country,” Darling said. “It’s phenomenal to the Madison community and the Badger running community.”
With such a prestigious invite, presumably Wisconsin’s goal would be to win the meet to show its dominance to the other teams around the country, but that is not the case. Since there is no record in cross country that determines eligibility for the postseason, there is no pressure for Wisconsin to bring home a win.
Although a win would be nice, Reed Connor recognizes that the main goal for the race is to help prepare for the remainder of the season.
“Cross country … it’s a different sport,” Connor said. “We have no regular season record; [our record] doesn’t matter until championship season … it’s good for our mental state to get a win, and we’ll always go for a win because that’s the nature of competition, but as far as records go, we’re just getting ready for Big Tens and beyond.”
Taking into mind the size and amount of talent involved with the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational, it will surely feel like a postseason meet when the runners step to the line Friday at the Thomas Zimmer Championship Course. That postseason atmosphere will help Byrne gauge which of his athletes are ready to help the Badgers make another run at the title.
“You look down that line, and you see all those big name schools and all those big superstars in our sport; can you handle it? That’s what we’re looking for,” Byrne said. “It’s about who’s ready … to step up to that type of competition.”