After finishing up the indoor season with a solid 26th-place finish at the NCAA Indoor Championships last month, the Wisconsin men’s track and field team is hoping to put together an even better outdoor season this week.

With the weather warming up and the outdoor track and field season now fully underway, the team is hoping for a strong performance this weekend at the Drake Relays.

A massive event, with over 7,000 athletes combined heading to Des Moines, Iowa on both the men’s and women’s sides, this meet could give the Badgers a better idea of where they stand on a national level.

Despite the size of the meet, the team is most concerned with seeing how they compare to the other Big Ten teams competing in the event.

“Minnesota is going to have teams in all the events, and I think just taking it to them is kind of the goal this weekend hopefully and beating up on some of the other Big Ten teams there,” senior distance runner Ryan Gasper said.

School rivalries aside, this meet is an ideal time for the team to fix any issues before its more important upcoming meets. Falling several weeks before the crucial Big Ten Outdoor Championships and the NCAA Outdoor Championships, UW is using this event for valuable preparation time.

While still recognizing the importance of the Drake Relays, the team understands its whole season does not depend on this meet. Especially for experienced runners such as Gasper, who expect to compete in the NCAA Outdoor Championships in June, much of the season still lies ahead.

“This is kind of just a meet along the way to get ready for some bigger meets,” Gasper commented. “We just [try] to prepare like any other meet and kind of keep it in perspective where we are in the season. A lot of us are trying to go well into the summer with competition.”

Although it might not be the Big Ten Outdoor Championships or NCAA Outdoor Championships, this event still features one of the strongest fields the Badgers will encounter this season. A famous event known as “America’s Athletic Classic,” the meet is stacked with a field that includes several Big Ten opponents.

Such difficult competition guarantees that a top finish in Des Moines will be no easy task for Wisconsin. However, the team still feels that their key to success at this event is a strong sense of confidence. After posting some very fast times this season in other meets, the Badgers believe their training has really paid off and that this confidence is well warranted.

“The other teams are tough out there, you know, there’s a lot of good Big Ten teams so it’s always challenging to go against those teams,” Gasper said. “But we’re pretty tough, we’ve dealt with it all, so it shouldn’t be anything we haven’t seen before.”

Even though the Wisconsin faces a challenging field this weekend, it still has high expectations. For the Badgers, this meet could be a momentum builder that gives them even more confidence in their abilities heading into the second half of the outdoor season.

Currently ranked No.24 nationally, the team feels like they have the talent to come away with an impressive finish at the Drake Relays.

“We have some events that we should do very well in, possibly vie for some titles,” head coach Ed Nuttycombe said. “And we have other events that we hope to be able to place in.”

Ultimately this meet could be a preview for how the Big Ten men’s track and field standings will end up this year and how Wisconsin’s team fits into that mix.

In what could be an overwhelming event with teams from 115 schools, the Badgers are heading in with lofty expectations while still keeping the meet in perspective.

For Wisconsin, it is all about making those crucial adjustments that will prepare them for the meets that really count.

“It is a lot of fun, it’s a great, festive event,” Nuttycombe said. “Just go and do the best you can and use it as a stepping-stone towards more important meets later on.”