If having one solid team returning with plenty of experience wasn’t enough for the UW cross country program, it has the luxury of having two stellar teams coming back. The women have their top three fi nishers at last year’s NCAA Championships returning, and the men bring back almost the entire core of the team.
In fact, the only key loss from last year’s men’s team — which finished fifth at Nationals last season — is its coach. Jerry Schumacher, who led the team to nine consecutive Big Ten titles and a national championship in 2005, left in the offseason to work with Nike. In his place, the Badgers hired a coach who has almost twice as many conference titles under his belt. Mick Byrne, a native of Dublin, Ireland, coached Iona to 17 consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Championships and 12 appearances at the national championships.
Although Schumacher’s career change left some big shoes to fill, Byrne’s success at Iona has him prepared to take over the position.
“I’m excited about getting out and continuing the great tradition that Wisconsin has at competing at the Big Ten and competing for national championships,” Byrne said. “I’m real excited about continuing the legacy established by the last three or four coaches here at Wisconsin.”
Last season, Byrne’s Iona team actually finished higher than the Badgers at the NCAA Championships, finishing second. This year, Byrne has the luxury this season of coming to a new team that has almost all of their runners back from last year. Matt Withrow, a fifth year senior and three-time All-American, returns along with Wisconsin’s top four finishers from the national championship race last year.
Withrow will pave the way this season for a Wisconsin team that dominated last year’s Big Ten Championships. In addition to Withrow, Stu Eagon, Andrew Lacy, Landon Peacock and Brandon Bethke all placed in the top 10 for the Badgers en route to another Big Ten title. Fortunately for Wisconsin, Eagon, Lacy and Peacock all return this season. Having such a solid returning core should help make Byrne’s first season in Madison a smooth one.
“They’re real focused,” Byrne said. “They’ve done a real good job with the changing coaches; for the most part they’ve been very accepting and accepting to new ideas and that’s exciting and certainly helps my transition.”
For the women’s team, there is also a reason to be excited about this season. After finishing in the top 20 at last year’s national championships without one of their key runners, the Badgers can only improve. Cassie Hintz, who was the winner of last year’s Crazylegs race, missed out on competing at the national championships due to a battle with mononucleosis. However, with Hintz’s return, along with senior Gwen Jorgensen and juniors Hannah Grinaker and Alicia Pabich, the Badgers team appears to be solid heading into the season.
Grinaker, a two time All- American, was the top runner for the Badgers last year with a 25th place finish at the national championships. Jorgensen, a converted swimmer, finished second for the Badgers last year at the NCAAs, while Pabich fi nished third. Although most of the team are not seniors, it does feature plenty of experience.
While the women’s team appears to be heading in the right direction, the men’s seems to be at the top of its game. Even though the loss of Schumacher will be tough to replace, Byrne’s experience can only help the Badgers as the season progresses.
“They’re focused,” Byrne said of his team. “They know the importance of November, and if they stay focused on November, September and October will take care of themselves.”