With the start of the University of Wisconsin women’s cross country team’s season comes the constant uphill battle, both physically and mentally, to meet the lofty goals and expectations that seem to precede each new season.
This year, however, the Badgers will have to rise and run without star senior Erica Palmer.
Head coach Peter Tegen is in his 28th season. The original founder of the women’s cross country team at Wisconsin, he will be forced to use a medical redshirt on Palmer, who continues to suffer from a lingering foot injury. With Palmer gone for the season, the reigning Big Ten champions will be forced to defend their title and meet seemingly impossible expectations without her.
Yet, despite the loss of his top runner, Tegen retains hope and is optimistic that the rest of the Badgers will persevere and pull together to remain competitive.
“We have a good group who is willing to put in the extra work to improve,” Tegen said. “When someone is missing, everyone must step up. And everyone in this group must be able to step up to make up for this new team.”
Among those attempting to fill the void is Bethany Brewster. Brewster, a senior, will offer veteran leadership to the otherwise young group. She finished ninth (20:53.3) last season at the NCAA Championship meet; this was the first time since 1990 that UW had two runners in the top ten. Brewster received All-American honors for that performance.
Added to the mix are junior Liz Reusser and senior Erin AufderHeide. Reusser has garnered numerous honors and accolades in her first two years at UW, including 2000 Big Ten Indoor Freshman of the Year and All-American honors in track. Now Reusser has the opportunity to translate those honors into a successful season for Tegen and the UW cross-country team. AufderHeide, a two-time letterwinner, will also contribute.
“We might be a little young and overrated with the loss of Palmer,” Tegen said. “However, this team has to have a confident outlook with dealing with injury. This team has to band together.”
The UW women’s cross country team will get its first opportunity to showcase that unity when it begins its season this Saturday, Sept. 15, at the Illinois State Invitational in Normal, Ill. Tegen insists that the competition at the invitational shouldn’t be very overwhelming, and will be the perfect way to allow his youthful team to ease into the season without having to go full-throttle right away.
However, the schedule gets noticeably tougher the following Saturday, Sept. 29, at the Stanford Invitational in Palo Alto, Calif. For the first time in UW history, the team will run two different race courses (4k and 6k), an idea implemented by the NCAA in an effort to start competing in similar-style races to those run in international competitions. It will be at Stanford where the Badgers will be truly tested, facing a much tougher squadron of runners including the Cardinal, who finished with a No. 3 ranking last year at the NCAA Championships.
Having won the Big Ten title an astonishing six years in a row, and with six consecutive first-place regional finishes, Tegen may need to harness all of his own experience as well as whatever experience he can muster out of his returning players to keep UW true to its lofty stature. Tegen even admits that his goals for this year’s team may be “very pushy” for such an inexperienced team, and could eventually turn out to be unrealistic.
In spite of this, Tegen still expects his young team to develop into a winning team, and truly believes that if his team competes at their highest level, it will reach its goals of a seventh-straight Big Ten Championship and another top-ten finish.
Said Tegen, “Unless you have a really high goal, you will never do your best.”