The Wisconsin men?s track and field team officially opened its 2004 indoor season with a dominant performance at the Badger Track Classic, winning a total of seven events. The Badgers were especially strong in the middle distances, with sophomore Joe Detmer taking the 600 meters and freshman Tim Lacy winning the 800 meters.

Wisconsin was also impressive in the field events, as redshirt sophomore Rick Bellford posted a personal best with 49 feet, 3 inches to win the triple jump, redshirt freshman Matt Novak placed first in the pole vault, sophomore Joe Conway took the long jump, and redshirt freshman Brandon Houle grabbed the top spot in shot put.

The Badgers, who have always been a threat on the Big Ten level in recent years, will be gunning for their fourth-straight Big Ten indoor title. Wisconsin returns 29 letterwinners from last year, all of whom have Big Ten Championship experience, and adds 13 redshirt athletes and 13 true freshmen.

The Badgers will be young in some areas, as they lose All-American Isaiah Festa and NCAA qualifiers Steve Jones and Adam Wallace to graduation.

Despite the loss of Festa, Jones and Wallace, the Badgers should be sound, with experienced players and veteran leaders returning. More than 80 percent of the team?s scoring returns from last season, including eight All-American performers.

?I was counting, and there is a 50-man roster and 35 are freshman or sophomores,? head coach Ed Nuttycombe said. ?We are not without some older experience, but we are relatively young. I see a lot of good young talent with some leadership up front. Guys are getting better, but we still have a long way to go.?

The younger members of the team will not be expected to make key contributions early on, but they will need to step up for Wisconsin to continue to make its mark in the Big Ten indoor season.

?What you expect from the freshmen is to not be intimidated,? Nuttycombe said. ?I think our program is in such a position that we don?t expect a lot of high point production from the freshmen. We do have some freshmen that can and will contribute, but from a team perspective we take that as a bonus, not as a given.?

With Wisconsin?s history of success, there is pressure to perform at a high level, but the team welcomes the challenge.

?I think people know [what] Wisconsin [has] done [in] previous years, but we expect a lot from ourselves,? senior captain Jon Mungen said. ?We know what we can do and that when you put on a Wisconsin jersey a lot is expected from you, and that?s why a lot of people come here — because great things are expected of them and they want to reach their potential.?

If Wisconsin is to win another Big Ten title and become a national contender, it must avoid the injury bug.

?If we can stay healthy through the Big Ten season, we should be pretty golden,? All-American senior captain Ryan Tremelling said.

As a result of injuries, the Badgers fell to sixth at last year?s outdoor championship.

?It was an unusual season for us due to the fact we were able to win the championship indoors and then not even be a factor outdoors,? Nuttycombe said. ?It was a matter of just a lot of misfortunate situations, injuries that just all kind of came down on us at one time.?

The team knows that nothing will come easily, even for three-time defending Big Ten champions. Other teams in the conference have improved and will go at the Badgers even harder with hopes of knocking the Badgers off their high horse.

?We don?t have a lot of room for error,? Nuttycombe said. ?It?s very competitive. This year there are three or four teams that can make a run at the title, I think us being one of them.?

The Badgers tied for 44th at the 2003 NCAA Indoor Championships and returns three members of the fifth-place distance medley relay in Josh Spiker, Jvontai Hanserd and Dan Murray. Wisconsin also returns NCAA qualifiers Brent Boettcher (high jump) and Matt Tegenkamp (3000 meters).

?The hardest part in our sport of doing well in the NCAAs is getting there, so we need to get some guys qualified,? Nuttycombe said. ?Generally, if you do the performance that you did to get there, you will do well. You would be surprised at how often that doesn?t happen. I think it?s important that the team also realizes that it has a chance to make an impact at the national level. If we make the strides that I?m expecting, we can become a more competitive team at the national level. I think that we have the opportunity to become a top-20 team, if not better.?