While many students partook in various festivities on Mifflin Street Saturday afternoon, the Wisconsin men’s track and field team was hard at work at the McClimon Track Complex, competing in its last regular season meet. The No. 11-ranked Badgers took home wins in 13 events in the Wisconsin Open, which was the final tuneup for the Big Ten Outdoor Championships this weekend in Columbus, Ohio.
Wisconsin head coach Ed Nuttycombe spoke about the anticipation of the championships – slated to run from Friday through Sunday – at Monday’s press conference.
“We’re very, very excited about the meet this weekend. We like to think we’re one of the teams that has a chance to win. I do think we’re in that position. I’m not sure it’s going to probably end up being quite as tight as it was indoors in the sense of it’s almost incredible when you have five teams within four points at the indoor meet, and we’re thankful to have come out on the top side of that,” Nuttycombe said of the exciting finish to the Big Ten Indoor Championships, which saw Wisconsin edge Illinois by 2 1/2 points for the crown.
“But it will be a very competitive meet,” Nuttycombe added. “I do think there’s quite a few teams that have a chance on their given day to be on top. I think we are one of those.”
One of the bigger obstacles for the Badgers to overcome this weekend won’t even be on the track, as Wisconsin lost one of its best athletes in junior Japheth Cato to a ruptured Achilles tendon two weekends ago at the Brutus Hamilton Invitational. The junior was named an indoor All-American both this year and last year and was last year’s Big Ten Field Athlete of the Year.
Nuttycombe knows that missing Cato Saturday will be a large loss for his team. However, he also recognized one player doesn’t make a team, and the other athletes will have to be just that much better.
“It does make it much more difficult, but I think that any team that depends upon one athlete is not a very good team, and that’s certainly not the case in our situation,” Nuttycombe said. “I mean, we have four athletes that are leading their respective events and we’ll just have to have everybody. It’s easy to say ‘step up,’ but I think we just have to have everybody have a good meet.”
Despite losing one athlete to injury, the Badgers added two fresh faces last week to the roster in the form of football players Kenzel Doe and Dezmen Southward. According to Nuttycombe, he wasn’t sure exactly how the junior wide receiver and senior defensive back heard about the Badgers’ need for sprinters, but after talking to football head coach Gary Andersen, the two were cleared to come out and showcase their skills. In the Wisconsin Open Saturday, Southward finished fifth in 10.97 seconds and Doe finished three places behind in a time of 11.12 seconds.
Nuttycombe was enthusiastic to have the two try the transition from the gridiron to the track and said he expects they will travel to the championships, although he doesn’t know if they will compete yet.
“We had two football players take their shoulder pads and helmets off and come out, and they had a great time. Wonderful young men. It was kind of fun to watch them run. They really were very, very excited about it,” Nuttycombe said. “As far as where they fit in, we’ll probably make that decision when we leave Wednesday for the meet.”
As far as the competition Saturday is concerned, the Badgers will be looking to defend their title from the indoor season as well as their title from a year ago in the outdoor championships.
Winning could prove to be a difficult task without Cato competing, but Nuttycombe still expects his team to finish near the top of the standings.
“Team wise, I would have to say probably Nebraska and Illinois are a little bit of a step ahead of a group of schools of which I think we’re included in that second tier,” Nuttycombe said. “With Cato, it would have been a little easier. Here again, I’m not going to dwell on that because, as I said earlier, if you have a team that counts on one athlete, you’re really, truly not a good team, and that’s certainly not the case.”