It may not be the most popular or well-known team on campus, but the Wisconsin men’s cross country team is certainly one of the university’s most successful programs.
Coming off its 12th consecutive Big Ten title October 31, the men’s cross country team has solidified its reputation as a national powerhouse in the sport. The Badgers also won the individual race, as fifth-year senior and Big Ten Athlete of the Year Landon Peacock crossed the finish line first. Wisconsin also swept the conference’s postseason awards, taking home athlete of the year, freshman of the year and coach of the year honors.
Consequently, winning the Big Ten title has become more than just a goal for the men’s cross country team – it has become an expectation.
“No one wants to be on that team that loses Big Tens,” redshirt sophomore and first-team all-Big Ten selection Maverick Darling said. “They say ‘Hey, we’re going to go out there, we’re going to win the Big Tens no matter how tough the competition is. We’re going to do it because we’re the Badgers, and we’re supposed to win.'”
History is definitely an important part of the program – Wisconsin has won 12 Big Ten titles in a row and 29 of the last 34. Its 44 total team titles ranks first in the conference. But UW’s cross country squad is also striving to establish its own identity this season.
Part of this identity has been working for success as a team in what is usually viewed as an individual sport. This was clear in the Big Ten title race, where the Badgers had four runners finish in the top 10.
“I think one thing that’s really helping our team this year is that we just have a group of guys that are real close to each other,” Peacock said. “There hasn’t been one clear reserve…we just have a group of guys that are able to work together and finish really close to each other.”
Perhaps the most impressive part of the streak is that it has continued despite losing star runners and changing coaches, a true sign of a dominant program.
However, there seems to be a common link between all the teams in their conference-title-first approach to the season.
“We have a saying on the team that, you know, we train for Big Tens and beyond,” Big Ten Coach of the Year Mick Byrne said. “I think that all the great Wisconsin teams of the past kind of had that attitude.”
One thing that made this year’s Big Ten Championship different was that Wisconsin hosted the race at its own course, the Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course, for the first time. Although competing on their home field might seem like an advantage, some runners felt more pressure to bring home another conference title in front of the home crowd.
Such an issue indicates that each year presents new obstacles that challenge the Badgers to keep the streak alive. Every year, the team must put together a strong performance at the Big Ten Championship, regardless of what has happened the rest of the year.
“Just because we won it many years in the past, doesn’t make it easier to win in the current year,” Peacock added. “Every season you…have to get focused, because when you don’t do that, that’s when you’re going to run into problems and not show up to the meet.”
After taking home every conference award for the sport, the Badgers have made it clear that they are the team to beat in the Big Ten when it comes to men’s cross country.
Despite all the accolades and success year in and year out, the team insists that each season is just as special as the last.
“Winning Big Ten titles never gets old,” Byrne said. “As a guy that’s been in this business for 27 years, it never gets old, doesn’t matter what conference it is. It’s fun winning.”
After finishing no worse than second in any meets so far this season, Wisconsin is looking forward to the NCAA Championship later this month. Placing seventh in last year’s championship, this year’s squad has even higher expectations.
With the goal of wrapping up another Big Ten Championship behind them, the Badgers can now focus on remaining healthy and preparing for their most important event of the year. This is the opportunity for the team to see how they match up on a national level, and they have set very clear goals.
“We got to get back on the podium; we have to be a top four team,” Darling said. “This team is too good not to be on the podium.”