By the rankings or by subjective analysis, it’s hard to conclude that the field for Friday’s Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational cross country meet is anything less than stacked.
Of 60 men’s and women’s teams in the national rankings, 34 will be at the University of Wisconsin’s Zimmer Championship Course, including top-ranked Northern Arizona on the men’s side and New Mexico in the women’s race.
“It’s like a Who’s Who in collegiate Division I cross country,” Badgers director of cross country and track and field Mick Byrne said.
The meet provides a look at the course that will host the NCAA championship on Nov. 17 but Byrne said there’s more to it than that.
“They’re not just coming for the course. They’re coming for the opportunity to compete head to head,” he said. “We’ve put together this field with representation from all nine regions around the nation. There are opportunities for a lot of points for at-large qualification for the national championships. That’s the main reason. It’s head-to-head competition.”
The Badgers are enthusiastic about putting their top-10 teams in the middle of that competition at an early stage in an altered schedule.
The Nuttycombe meet, named for former Badgers cross country coach Ed Nuttycombe, moved up two weeks on this year’s calendar as a result of a chain reaction because of UW hosting nationals. A pre-national meet is scheduled at Zimmer on Oct. 13, the traditional weekend for the Nuttycombe.
Both UW teams took first place at the Badger Classic on Sept. 14, their only meet to date.
The women’s team, ranked seventh nationally by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association, has four runners returning from the group that finished 10th at last season’s national meet.
But UW is still evaluating which runner will be able to join juniors Amy Davis, Alissa Niggemann and Alicia Monson and senior Shaelyn Sorensen in the top group.
Jill Miller, recently given the title of head women’s cross country coach after a stint as an assistant to Byrne, said she has a group a young runners who have shown “impressive” growth early this season.
“With that group, this meet will be a huge learning opportunity for them,” Miller said. “They have yet to be in a field, 252 of their closest competitors on the line, and to get that experience. To understand what it’s like to be 100, 150 people deep in a race is something they need experience with. We need to learn from it, grow from it and pull together as a team afterward.”
The ninth-ranked men’s team has 2017 Big Ten Conference champion Ollie Hoare, a junior, as well as 2016 conference cross country athlete of the year Morgan McDonald, a senior who redshirted in cross country last year.
Former Madison West athlete Olin Hacker, a junior who won the individual title at the Badger Classic, returned after a redshirt season because of injury. And junior Ben Eidenschink had a great summer of training after a successful outdoor track season, Byrne said.
“But we’re not going to be successful with just those four guys,” Byrne said. “We have, we believe, a great support cast, something that’s been missing for the last couple of years. And when you have five or six guys fighting for those last couple of spots, particularly scoring spots, I think that makes you a pretty legit team.”
The Badgers are one of 37 men’s teams in the Nuttycombe field, while there are 39 in the women’s competition.
Races start at 11 a.m. Friday with the women’s “B” race, followed by the men’s “B” race at 11:40 a.m. The championship races are at 12:20 p.m. (women) and 1 p.m. (men).