In the men's eight-kilometer race, the field will be more competitive than any other meet this season. FloTrack recently announced that the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational was named the top meet of the 2016 cross country season. With 19 of the 30 ranked teams participating, this event proves to be a preview of the upcoming NCAA Championship in November.
"This year's field is as good as it's ever been," UW Director of Track and Field and Cross Country Mick Byrne said. "There's going to be a lot of fireworks next week and it's fun to see it happening here on our home course and it's fun to be part of it."
"It gives us an opportunity to kind of look at what you're going to face down the road in major competitions like the national meet."
The meet will begin with the "B" races at this year's competition. At 11 a.m. the women's six-kilometer open race starts the festivities, shortly followed by the men's eight-kilometer open race at 11:40 a.m. The championship races will be held at 12:30 p.m. for the women and 1:15 p.m. for the men.
The Nuttycombe will be streamed live by FloTrack and admission is free for the meet. Parking information is available here.
THE WISCONSIN MEN
"On the men's side, we are healthy and excited to run at home," Byrne said. "The guys always love running at home on the Zimmer Course, in front of our fans and in front of their family."
UW comes into the Nuttycombe with victories in each of its first two meets. The squad is led by junior Morgan McDonald and senior Malachy Schrobilgen. The duo finished one-two at the opening meet, the Oz Memorial Invitational in Minnesota, helping the Badgers start the season off with a win.
Schrobilgen is a two-time All-American and two-time Big Ten champion, and will look to make a mark at the Nuttycombe after finishing fifth overall at last year's competition. McDonald placed 10th at the 2015 meet, and has been running at an elite pace ever since, following that up by taking fifth at last year's Big Ten Championship and ninth at the Great Lakes Regional before winning the individual title at the Oz Memorial to kick off the 2016 season.
McDonald and Schrobilgen are two of the top runners in the country, but the key to success for Wisconsin so far this season has been the power of the team as a whole.
"It's all about the team," Byrne said. "It's not all about just Morgan and Malachy, their opportunity is going to come later on, hopefully in November at the national meet. We need them to be solid and to be team leaders, and get our low stakes but still understand that we still have plenty of racing left to do."
At the Badger Classic, the team's last competition, UW dominated the race with the top four finishers all crossing the line for Wisconsin. Senior Russell Sandvold earned the individual title, with Tyson Miehe, Zack Benning and Benjamin Eidenschink at his side.
"We are expecting a great race," Byrne said. "There's a great opportunity for us to be solid and walk out of there hopefully with some points that will help us down the road to qualify for the national meet."
TEAMS TO WATCH
Northern Arizona will come into the meet as the No. 1 ranked team in the country, followed by 2015 NCAA Champion Syracuse. At No. 3, BYU marks the arrival of the top three teams in the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association National Coaches' Poll that will come to Madison. In addition, two other teams in the bottom half of the top 10 are participating in the Nuttycombe, No. 7 Portland and No. 8 Iona. Adding to the strong field is Stanford coming in at No. 11, with No. 14 Iowa State, No. 15 Eastern Kentucky and No. 16 Wisconsin competing at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational.
"Whoever wins Wisconsin will be a major NCAA favorite heading into November," FloTrack Producer Gordon Mack said. "Last year, Syracuse went on to win the NCAA title after their Wisconsin win. It wouldn't surprise me if the same trend happened in 2016 with the Wisconsin champ going on to win the NCAA title."
Adding to the 19 ranked schools that will be competing, six additional teams that will be in Madison are receiving votes in the poll. In all, there are 31 schools taking aim at the prestigious Nuttycombe crown in the most anticipated meet of the season.
"It just seems to have snowballed into where it's at right now," Byrne said. "When we put this meet together, my plan was to have a good midseason meet with maybe ten to 12 teams. This quickly has become a huge meet and it is what it is. It's our system as it promotes point chasing for those 13 at large bids and that's what happens and that's why people come here. They come because we put together a very, very competitive meet and great opportunities to grab points."
The field begins to look even more competitive based on the 2016 Saucony Flo-50 Individual Rankings. On the men's side, seven of the top 10 runners in the rankings are expected to race at the Nuttycombe. Included in that list are a pair of Badgers, with Schrobilgen and McDonald coming in at No. 6 and 7 respectively. In total, 14 of the top 25 in the individual rankings are set to run during this competition.
"You can look up and down this list and again, when the new rankings come out after the meet this is all going to get blown up. There's no doubt about it," Byrne said. "It's great for our sport and it's great to promote our sport, but there will be names not on this list that will be major factors in both races."
Three runners that finished in the top five of the 2015 edition of the meet are expected to be back in action as they look for similar success at this year's meet. To go along with the stacked field, the Nuttycombe welcomes nine of the top 12 finishers from the 2015 NCAA Cross Country Championship.
"Similar to the team race, the individual race will be the deepest field outside of the NCAA championships themselves. There is a chance the top eight finishers at this meet could all be in the top ten come November," Mack said.
One of the top ranked runners is Northern Arizona's Futsum Zienasellassie, who checks in at No. 3 in the individual rankings. Before redshirting during last year's cross country season, Zienasellassie finished second at the 2014 meet held in Madison and third at the 2014 NCAA Championship. The senior has finished in the top 10 in 12 of his collegiate meets and was honored as an All-American in cross country all three years he has competed.
Syracuse's Justyn Knight checks in at No. 4 in the rankings after winning the Panorama Farms Invitational by over 15 seconds in Charlottesville, Virginia, on Sept. 23. The junior took fourth place at the 2015 NCAA Championship while leading Syracuse to the team title. Knight also finished in second in last year's race in Madison.
"NAU's Futsum Zienasellassie and Syracuse's Justyn Knight look to be favorites for the individual win. It will also be exciting to see how the 1-2 duos from Wisconsin (Schrobilgen/McDonald) and Stanford (McGorty/Fisher) stack up against the top individuals in the race," Mack said.
Rounding out the top five of the rankings is McGorty from Stanford. McGorty took seventh at the 2015 NCAA Championship as a junior after placing 20th in 2014. He comes into the meet as decorated as they come after receiving the 2015 USTFCCCA Scholar-Athlete of the Year Award for Cross Country and has been named an All-American seven times during his collegiate career.
"For us this is a great opportunity, another opportunity to show off our great course, to show off our university, and to show off the city of Madison," Byrne said. "It's a great opportunity for our fans to see an outstanding cross country meet. There are no negatives in that, it's all positives. We also look at it as a dress rehearsal for something bigger. Hopefully that's our NCAA bid, which is in now, and we are excited about the possibility of hosting in the very near future."