In the second edition of our “Year of the Badger” preview of the 2014-15 season, we’ll be taking a look at one of Wisconsin’s most historically successful programs: men’s cross country.
The Badgers have been a force to be reckoned with in cross country for several decades, and that trend has showed no signs of slowing down under coach Mick Byrne.
Since arriving in Madison from Iona back in 2008, Byrne has taken an already tremendous Wisconsin men’s cross country program and cemented its place among the country’s elite.
Under his leadership, the Badgers won five consecutive Big Ten championships and Great Lakes Regional titles, before finishing third and second respectively in 2013.
The pinnacle of his tenure to this point came back in 2011, when UW captured the fifth national title in program history and its first since 2005. Byrne and the Badgers followed this up by finishing second at the 2012 NCAA Championship.
While the program has seen plenty of success under Byrne, men’s cross country dominance is nothing new for Wisconsin.
Before having them both snapped in 2013, the Badgers boasted a couple of unprecedented streaks. UW set a conference record by winning 14 straight Big Ten championships and 11 consecutive Great Lakes Regional titles. But perhaps Wisconsin’s most impressive streak is their NCAA-record 42 consecutive appearances in the national championship meet, a run that dates all the way back to 1972, when the the regional format was introduced.
UW kept that streak alive in 2013, despite losing a trio of All-American seniors (Mohammed Ahmed, Maverick Darling and Reed Connor) from the previous season.
Despite lowered expectations entering the season, Byrne’s inexperienced team proved to be a resilient group, buying fully into his “Badger Tough” mantra and finding their way back into the NCAA Championship meet. The 17th-ranked Badgers rose to the occasion on the national stage, running one of their best team races of the season. Wisconsin finished ninth overall, extending their run of consecutive top-10 finishes at the NCAA meet to 18.
A huge key to the Badgers’ success this past year was the breakthrough performance by redshirt freshman Malachy Schrobilgen, who quickly proved to be one of the leaders on the team.
Schrobilgen captured the individual title at the Big Ten Championship, overcame losing a shoe with about four kilometers to go to finish ninth at the Great Lakes Regional, and finished 33rd at the NCAA meet with a time of 30:39.1 in the 10-kilometer race. He received numerous accolades for his stellar campaign, including Big Ten Cross Country Athlete of the Year, Big Ten Freshman of the Year, All-America honors, and both first-team All-Big Ten and All-Great Lakes Region selections.
Aside from Schrobilgen, the Badgers return several other runners in 2014, including seniors Michael Van Voorhis and Alex Hatz, both of whom earned All-Big Ten honors last season.
With Schrobilgen, Van Voorhis, and Hatz leading the way, Byrne will lead a more experienced, “Badger Tough” team into 2014, where the Badgers will look to once again find itself not just on top of the Big Ten, but the entire country as well.