"I don't know if I've done either, actually. We really have no choice seeing as we are ranked number one, so, you know, really our outlook has been it's a positive thing from a recruiting standpoint. It has been all season long. And if we're going to be ranked number one, just don't succumb to the things, the negative things that can be associated with that, and, you know, always have a target on your back and all those types of things. You know, we've more or less just had the approach that we're going to go to, or throughout the season and hopefully to the NCAAs and run to the best of our abilities, no matter what our ranking is, and we'll really get that final ranking that day. Which we hope to be number one, of course."
Do you think this squad is the squad to win the NCAA, from everything you've seen?
"You know, so far they've done a great job all season long. You know, from what you can tell, from what other teams have done, the competition that they've raced in their own respective conferences and regions, there's some other good teams out there obviously. But I think our team, on next week Monday when we go there, if we run the way we're capable of I think we have a great shot at winning."
Jerry, what's longer right now, your list of worries or the list of things that you know you've checked off and you've addressed at this point?
"Oh, you know, I think we've done everything that we wanted to do this season, and now it's just, you know, we're right where we want to be. We just have to get to the meet now. And it's just, the week is long because we're ready to go and we want to do it. So, you know, the worries are behind us. Everyone's healthy. We're ready to run."
What will this week be like? What will you do with your team this week then? If they're ready right now, a week ahead of schedule, what's this week in terms of training, in terms of doing what you would want to do to get them ready?
"Well, we'll get plenty of sleep, eat right, do all the little things, try not to get sick, and, you know, do all the things that, anything that would probably work against us at the national championships we'll try to avoid. And then training-wise, it's just, it's more rest than anything else. Everything else, all the preparations leading up to this point are done."
Jerry, can you talk about Simon Bairu's development? He was pretty heralded when you signed him, wasn't he? And did you expect him to be your No. 1 guy at this point?
"You know, I'm hesitant to say that someone's No. 1 or No. 2 or No. 3 or anything like that on our team. I think we have a group of guys that, you know, on the day, anybody could be our number-one guy. And that's really the type of team I think we have, not only physically, but in character. They just, they want to win as a team and I don't think they're worried so much as to who's going to be number one and who's going to be number two.
"And Simon happened to be our number-one guy at the Big Ten meet that day, and he had a great day, and he ran a fabulous race. But I think on any given day it could be somebody else who is stepping in to do that, and Simon would be just as happy for one of his teammates to have done that than, if it wasn't going to be him he'd rather see one of his teammates do it. But Simon's done a great job. He's come, I think, a long way in a short period of time to put himself as, you know, hopefully a national contender this year individually."
Who are the top other teams, you think, that'll be right in there with you?
"Arkansas for sure because they've won a lot of national titles in the last 20 years, I think 11 of them, so they'll be a definite favorite. Colorado, Stanford, and there's always going to be a surprise team in there that really runs well on the day. But I think those three are the leading contenders as well."
Jerry, what's your philosophy on race-day motivation? Do you give an impassioned speech before they'll run in the national championships? Do you let them alone as it's so individual?
"Well, it's definitely not individual. You know, there's an individual component to it for each, you know, student athlete running, but their focus has always been the team, and they just want to see the team, it's a really fun bus ride home when you know the team has maximized their place, and it's not such a fun bus ride home when they don't. So their attention is definitely on having, you know, the team perform as its highest level as a group. And, you know, a few places, you know, 10th place, 8th place, 12th place, sometimes those places don't mean as much, but, you know, 1st, 2nd, 3rd as a team, those are the big, that's the big place."
Do you have a speech then prepared . . .
"Well, I wouldn't say I have a speech prepared, but, you know, we go over the things that I think we need to do. And certainly for the seniors, it's the last time they'll be running a cross country competition in their Badger uniform and I think that means something to them. And it's, I've always found it amazing how seniors tend to get the job done at the national meets. So I, if I give them words of wisdom, it's probably nothing that they haven't heard before from me, but it may mean a little bit more."
You just mentioned the seniors getting the job done at nationals. You hear so much from other coaches talking about how much experience means at this time of year. How much does it mean for your sport going into this, especially the motivation of having come so close, that these guys have been there before, very close before?
"Yeah, definitely experience plays a big role. Something the last two years, you know, I don't know, I don't think we could have won the last two years. We had very good teams, but we were very young. And we didn't, we didn't always, we didn't quite understand really what that level was, I think. And although we had parts that ran well each of those years, we weren't ready to make the next step, and I really feel this year we are ready to make that step. And we do have young guys still on our team competing, but having the senior leadership that we have will really carry this team, I think, to hopefully where we think the next level is, and that's, you know, being the team that's trying to win."