For a team that has won 12 (yes, you read that correctly) straight Big Ten titles, you would think that the Wisconsin men’s cross country team would carry a bigger name on campus.
Football, basketball and hockey will undoubtedly remain the three staples of Wisconsin athletics, but it’s time to give some love to the cross country team. While Bret Bielema may be building a football powerhouse at Camp Randall and Bo Ryan’s swing offense will keep the basketball team amazingly consistent, it’s hard to find a more successful team on campus over the last decade than Mick Byrne’s cross country squad. Last season, the Badgers finished in the top three at all six of their races and won half of them.
And it’s not like this success is something new to the Wisconsin cross country program. The program holds 44 Big Ten titles (a conference record) and owns 29 of the last 34 Big Ten championships. For comparison, the beloved Badgers football team lays claim to 12 Big Ten titles … in the last century. The cross country team’s high level of success is simply unheard of in sports. The closest competitor for all-time cross country titles in the Big Ten is Michigan State, with a respectable 14 championship titles – still 30 behind the leader.
Not only is the UW cross country team collecting Big Ten titles, but they’re often blowing away the competition. In 2010, they won the Big Ten championship by an impressive 47 points. With four runners finishing in the top six of the race, it was yet another dominant performance by this unstoppable squad.
At this point, it’s no longer fair to call the UW cross country team a “powerhouse” or a “premier program” – they are an outright dynasty. Despite coaching changes and revamped rosters, the cross country program has become a model of consistency. There’s no such thing as a “rebuilding year” or “transition year” with this team; they only have “let’s just do what we did last year” seasons. Just as Miami and Notre Dame dominated the college football landscape in the ’80s, the Badgers have been one of the most dominant cross country teams of this decade.
While their Big Ten performance is outstanding, Wisconsin’s success on the course is not confined to conference opponents. Since 1999, the Badgers have finished in the top five at the NCAA Championships 11 times, including five second place finishes and a national title in 2005.
The names of standout runners such as Elliot Krause, Landon Peacock and Maverick Darling may not be as well known as James White or Jordan Taylor, but they deserve the same level of respect. Running, especially during preseason workouts, is often seen as the most unappealing aspect of major sports, but this is what these guys live for. Instead of running to get in shape, they run for a sport.
Sure, the Wisconsin football season picked up two Big Ten Player of the Year awards in a Rose Bowl year, but the men’s cross country team swept the awards last season. As in, they won all of them – Athlete of the Year, Coach of the Year and Freshman of the Year. It’s nearly impossible to find another Badgers team that simply dominates their conference at both the individual and collective level in a similar manner.
So what exactly is the point of me tossing around all these impressive numbers? To point out the lack of attention paid to some of the most successful student-athletes on campus. Jumping Around at Camp Randall and yelling ferociously at the Kohl Center is always fun, but students should also consider keeping tabs on the cross country team.
Sure, chasing runners through a course might be less appealing than a game in the student section at Camp Randall, but it’s not fair to simply deny the cross country team’s unprecedented achievements.
While Bucky’s Locker Room was loaded up with Rose Bowl gear and shirts proclaiming the Badgers’ Big Ten title last winter, shirts advertising the cross country team’s Big Ten win were surprisingly absent. Such notice needs to be taken for a team that has performed at such a high level for such a long time.
Currently ranked No. 3 nationally, you can expect UW’s squad to put in (another) great season in 2011. While it’s hard to top last year’s No. 3 finish at the NCAA Championships, Byrne’s team will no doubt put in another dominating season. The Badgers kick off their season at home on their Zimmer Championship Course this Friday, and it’s the perfect opportunity to watch history in the making.
Come on, these guys deserve it.
Ian is a junior majoring in journalism. Are you a fan of the men’s cross country team? Let him know at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @imccue.