The Badgers will not challenge for a league crown this year, but a young UW team under first-year coach Jim Stintzi has the capability to make some headway at the 2005 Big Ten Indoor Championships this weekend, putting on display some of the progress that has been made this season as a proud program continues to rebuild.
"I think last year losing our old coaches was pretty hard on us and nobody was expecting much out of this year," senior pole vaulter Andrea Lopez said. "I think that this team has really come around and I think it might surprise people. I don't think they really thought that we could have so many people in placing contention."
Wisconsin finished 7th in the Big Ten Indoors last season with 63.1 points, but was just five points behind fifth-place Indiana. The Badgers' athletes feel that if things go well Saturday and Sunday in Ann Arbor, Mich., they could finish as high as fourth this year.
The real goal, however, is to continue to improving upon the team's scores, to maintain the steady progress the team has exhibited this season and build upon the positive momentum the program is cultivating.
"I think we've made a lot of improvement this season," junior pentathlete Erica Schoeller said. "I'm really excited to see what we can do."
It should be noted that three Badger veterans, who would almost certainly score in this meet, are redshirting this season: junior Melissa Talbot, the reigning Big Ten Indoor Champion in the pentathlon; junior Danielle Ohmen, who finished sixth in the high jump at the 2004 Big Ten Indoors; and junior Jamae Gjermo, who finished 13th in the shot put in last year's conference championships.
Wisconsin obviously has a plan, built around a strong nucleus of young athletes, and Talbot, Ohmen and Gjermo could potentially help put the Badgers back among the Big Ten's elite next year.
This season, however, is far from a wash. The Badgers have potential point-getters in the sprints, jumps, vaults, distance events and throws, but do not have the depth to compete among the top three in the conference.
"We have a young team, quite a few holes," Stintzi said, "[But we] have made a lot of progress since the start of the year."
"We are hoping to place a little higher than last year, so right now we are aiming for fourth place," sophomore sprinter Shuntia Lucas said.
One area where the Badgers do have depth is in the long and triple jumps, where Schoeller, sophomore Michelle Bellford (a transfer from Loyola) and senior Christina Taylor (fourth in the long jump last year) all could score this weekend. Schoeller, Taylor and Bellford enter the meet No. 4, 5 and 7 on the Big Ten's 2005 performance list in the long jump, respectively, and go 8-11-5 in the triple jump. Sophomore Venus Washington is ranked No. 14 in the in the long jump.
"I think we could get all four of our long jumpers to score," Bellford said.
Schoeller is also among the favorites in the pentathlon, having finished third in the event last season.
Adding to Wisconsin's potential in the jumps and vaults, junior Theresa Giorno has the 11th highest mark in the high jump this season. Lopez posted a personal best 3.7 meters (about 12-foot-1 ¾) in the pole vault last weekend, the sixth-best mark in the Big Ten this season.
"I hope I can just take that into this weekend," Lopez said. "The same relaxed atmosphere; bring that with me instead of stressing [about Big Tens]."
In the sprints, Lucas, who placed sixth in the 60 meters last year, expects to perform well in the 60 and the 200.
"I want to win the 200 and at least finish in the top three for the 60 and just basically get points for the team," Lucas said.
After placing 17th in the Big Ten cross country meet in the fall, sophomore Katrina Rundhaug, a transfer from Minnesota, is among the favorites in the 3,000 and the 5,000. Junior Tara Halls placed third in the 600 last year and also could score in the 800.
Senior captain Courtney Bauer could score in the shot put and the weight throw. She finished 15th in each event last season. She is seeded fifth in the shot put and 12th in the weight throw this weekend.
"I'm seeded as high as I've ever been seeded and I'm just ready," Bauer said. "It's my last Big Tens and I'm just excited."
Bauer, Taylor and Lopez are a rare breed on this UW women's track team: they are seniors; just three of the five among the Badgers this season.
"We have a young team with a new coaching staff," Bauer said. "That's just going to be even better for the future. This year is a building year, transitional year and that's how you've got to look at it."
Wisconsin's youth, and the positive vibe the team has developed in Stintzi's first season, bode well for the future.
"It is good relationship between coaches and athletes that's really shown in our performance as a team this year," Lopez said.
"I wish I could be a freshman right now so I could be a part of this for longer," Bauer said.