With the first three meets of the season already finished, the men’s cross country team now looks forward to running the Big Ten Cross Country Championships this Sunday. The eight kilometer meet is to be held right here in Madison at the Zimmer Cross Country course, a fact that has head coach Mick Byrne eager to have his athletes represent the school well.
“We are very excited about hosting the meet,” Byrne said at his press conference Monday. “Our athletes are very excited about having the opportunity to have the Big Ten Championships here at home, that is once in a lifetime for many of our athletes. We are looking forward to the challenge.”
The team enters the race ranked sixth in the nation and the highest ranked team in the Big Ten. While the statistics may point to an unprecedented 13th straight Big Ten title for the Badgers Sunday, Byrne was quick to point out that each race is different and that this race is, by no means, a forgone conclusion. There are many other good teams in the Big Ten conference, including No. 7 Indiana and No. 24 Penn State. In fact, at the Adidas Meet in early October, which is held on the same course that will host the Championships this weekend, Indiana came out on top, while the Badgers finished second.
“Indiana, obviously, are a good team,” Byrne said. “They beat us here at home at the Adidas Meet, and we are looking forward to getting out there and going head to head against those guys again.”
Still, Byrne looks to the race with optimism. Throughout most of the early season the cross-country team was missing key runner Mohammed Ahmed, a sophomore on the team this year. Last year, Ahmed played a crucial role for UW, as he was named an All-American, and also was named first-team all-Big Ten after finishing fifth in last year’s Big Ten Championships.
He did not run early in the season, as Byrne looked to give him time to rest after coming back from the 2010 IAAF World Junior Championships where he took fourth place. With that in mind, he was left out of the lineup for their last race, held on Oct. 16 in Oregon, in order for him to be fully rested up for the Big Ten Championships.
“[Ahmed] is definitely in the lineup,” Byrne said. “Not running him a week ago in Oregon was in the plan all along. He opened up at the Adidas Meet and wasn’t quite ready; he had a slow start to the season because of his late return to training after going very late into the summer with the World Junior Championships.”
With the last 12 Big Ten Championships going to the Badgers, Byrne admits that there is a lot of pressure on his team and on himself to win the Championships this year, especially since Madison will be the host.
“I think [the meet] being at home, yes [there is pressure to win],” Byrne said, “But I think the guys know that. They are looking forward to it. They want to be part of the tradition, the history, and they are excited about that; they are fired up about this weekend.”
Not only will Byrne have the home field advantage in the favor for this meet, but they also are far more ready for this meet than they were in the early part of the season.
“We are prepared this time,” said Byrne. “We have been on that course and run hard on that course over the last couple of weeks. We went into the [Adidas] meet with pretty heavy legs, a lot of miles under our belt, and we just weren’t sharp. Since then training has gone really well… we had a great workout on Thursday, and we think we are ready to go.”