Friday, September 6, 2013

NCAA XC Men's Darkhorse Team- Wisconsin

Editor's note: For the next month, The Wood Report will be counting down projected team finishes in this year's NCAA Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, IN.

Head Coach: Mick Byrne (6th) Season)
2012 National Finish- 2nd

Key Returners from 2012
  • Rob Finnerty (Sr., 3:41 1500m, 8:03 Open 3k, 14:15 5k, 49th NCAA XC '12)
  • Alex Hatz (Jr., 3:39 1500m, 14:23 5k, 113th NCAA XC '12)
  • Alex Brill (Sr., 3:46 1500m, 13:57 5k, 8:39 3k Steeple, 211th NCAA XC '12)
  • Drew Shields (Sr., 3:47 1500m, 8:55 3k Steeple, 112th NCAA XC '11)
  • Michael Van Voorhis (Jr., 8:12 Open 3k, 14:06 5k, 204th NCAA XC '12)

Impact Recruits/Transfers
  • Ryan Kromer (Fr., 4:14 1600m, 9:19 3200m, 8th FL Finals '12, 9th NXN '12)
  • Russell Sandvold (Redshirt Fr.- 4:09 1600m, 9:01 3200m, NXN Qualifier '11)
  • Malachy Schrobilgen (Redshirt Fr.- 4:11 1600m, 8:57 3200m, 44th NXN '11, 26th FL '11)

Season Preview

Just for the fun of it, I've decided to do a quick little preview on the Badgers because: One, there are a ton of Wisconsin fans that have asked me to do one; two, getting a sixth year for Finnerty pushes them into a top 30 team; and third, not previewing a team that was second at the Big Dance last year would be wrong. 

Here's the skinny on the Badgers: getting Rob Finnerty a sixth year was huge for them. I'm not saying that they could not make the meet without him, but when a team has at least one guy with a good chance of All-American at NCAAs and a good supporting cast, it instantly puts them in the picture. It was interesting the more and more I researched this team and looked at who they have, Wisco has some horses that people have forgotten about. 

For example, Drew Shields was an absolute stud in high school. 4th at Foot Locker in 2008 and 7th at NXN the same year. That's a big time high school runner right there. It is not that his talent has flown away, injuries and other things have obviously hindered his progression. With him healthy, he adds another dimension to this squad. 

Obviously, Finnerty, like mentioned before, is good and he is going to make everyone around him that much better. It will be hard for the Badgers to be at the same level that they were the past few years, losing Mo Ahmed, Maverick Darling and Reed Connor really hurts. The crazy thing is that Wisconsin has some pretty talented guys that have yet to have a break-out year in cross. 

Take Alex Brill as another example. This dude is a stud! All of his PRs are very quality and his 3k Steeple mark is in the top 10 of Steeple PRs of athletes returning in the country. Plus, he's run under the 14:00 minute mark for 5k and should be much better this year at NCAAs than his 211th place finish in Louisville. 

Alex Hatz is one more guy to add to the "stud-on-the-track" list that just needs to find his rhythm in xc. It's clear that he is much more of a middle-distance guy than a pure cross country runner. Being in the sub-4 mile club is a nice place to be in and his talent should shine this season when he is going to be counted on to step up. Finishing 113th last season at Nationals is promising for what he his capable of in 2013. 

Michael Van Voorhis is another athlete that struggled at NCAAs last season, but redeemed himself on the track. Finishing 204th in Louisville is good enough motivation for an athlete to get ready to roll and have a little redemption for the next year at Nats. 14:06 for 5k is a solid PR and definitely worthy of at least 140s or better at the Big Dance. 

Okay so that is just the returners. Without even mentioning the young guns who have yet to compete, it is clear that the Badgers have a ton of talented athletes that have not had much of a chance to prove themselves in cross country on the big stage. That played a big factor in my decision to originally leave them out of the top 30. The talent is there, just unproven. With a coach like Mick Byrne, he should be able to whip these guys around and make them cross country runners at last. 

The freshman (redshirt and true) are a huge x-factor for Wisconsin. Ryan Kromer was quite possibly the most consistent cross country runner as a prep last year. Placing top-10 at both NXN and Foot Locker (especially considering the gnarly conditions of the NXN course) is big time and he is the definition of a pure cross country runner. Disregard his track PRs because he could surprise a lot of folks if he is healthy. 

Malachy Schrobilgen has the most legitimate cross country experience of the three freshman racing their first time this season. Finishing right behind Craig Nowak at the 2012 U.S. Junior XC Nat'l Championships is a good sign of his ability and running on a huge stage like World Cross does a lot to a young athlete, in terms of opening their eyes of what they are capable of and from a goals standpoint as well. He ended up finishing 26th at Worlds, which is outstanding, and he will be a scorer for the Badgers this upcoming season. 

Russell Sandvold will be solid for the Badgers because he has a nice combination of good track PRs and also the ability to run well on the cross country course. Any help from him will be icing on the cake for Wisconsin as it is sometimes hard to immediately make an impact as a freshman. 

All three of these freshman have fantastic ability and it will be intriguing to see what they can do to help get the Badgers back to NCAAs for the "millionth" time in a row (will be 42nd if they do it again this year). 

To be honest, Wisconsin making the Big Dance this year is probably all but a done deal. Why would they not? A great coaching staff (adding Gavin Kennedy is huge for them--big time recruiter), solid returning pieces and some anxious young guns ready to start their career as Badgers, do not be shocked to see Wisconsin moving their way up the charts this season. With the freshman on the team nipping at the heels of the veterans all season long, and a historic streak of consecutive NCAAs on the line, Wisconsin's 2013 season could be the most intriguing season in the last 10+ years in Madison. 

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