The Badgers have won four of the last five outdoor season titles and are poised for their second consecutive conference "triple crown" as the 2005 outdoor championships get underway in Columbus, Ohio Friday. In March, UW won its fourth consecutive conference indoor championship, and in November the Badgers won their sixth consecutive men's cross country championship.
All that sets the stage for this weekend, where the Badgers again are a favorite. But this outdoor meet could very well be as dramatic as a year ago, when UW rallied on the last day to prevail by just eight points over Minnesota.
"We are pleased to be in that position, having that opportunity (to win the triple crown)," head coach Ed Nuttycombe said in a telephone interview this week. "I think we are definitely one of the teams that has a chance to contend for the championship but by no means are we the clear-cut favorite. As a matter of fact I think there's probably two teams that are equal to the task and we'll just have to see who has the best meet."
According to Nuttycombe, in addition to UW, "Indiana and Illinois both have teams that look pretty formidable on paper going in and I think Michigan and Minnesota will be the next two teams after that."
In the national Trackwire.com top 25 rankings, UW is tied for No. 15, with Indiana No. 10 and Michigan No. 12. But those rankings project scoring at the NCAA meet, where those teams' elite athletes are put in the spotlight. But winning the conference championship requires considerable depth, which sets UW, Indiana and Illinois apart from the rest.
The Badgers are very strong in the distance events and they should score well in the sprints and jumps. UW has the potential to score in every event except the 800 meters and the hammer.
"That definitely is our strength is the fact that we have a relatively complete track team and have very few holes where we don't have opportunities to score," Nuttycombe said.
The Badgers can rake in the lion's share of the points in the 10,000 Friday evening, with junior Simon Bairu, sophomore Tim Nelson, senior Antony Ford and junior Bobby Lockhart ranked 1-2-3-5 in the event on the conference's outdoor performance list.
UW clinched the indoor meet this year with a dominant performance in the 5,000 and the same thing could happen during the outdoor championships, where senior Matt Tegenkamp (a two-time champion in the Big Ten indoor 5,000), sophomore Chris Solinsky and Bairu are ranked 1-2-3. Senior Tim Keller, ranked ninth, also could score.
Lockhart is listed seventh in the 3,000 steeplechase, while junior Ben Gregory, Solinsky and senior Josh Spiker are 3-4-5 in the 1,500.
"The distances… is our bread and butter," Nuttycombe said. "We hope to be able to draw on that again this weekend."
The Badgers can also cover the much shorter distances quickly, however, led by sophomore Demi Omole. The Milwaukee native set a Big Ten indoor championship record during the preliminaries of the 60-meter dash but was not able to compete in the finals due to an injury. He enters the outdoor championships as the No. 1 ranked athlete in both the 100 and 200. He also anchors UW's No. 1 ranked 400 relay.
Another member of that 400 relay, senior Jvontai Hanserd, is also a contender to win both the 100 and the 200. In addition, Hanserd is part of the 1,600 relay team that is ranked fifth, and he could also place in the open 400.
The 400 relay team will look to repeat its Big Ten outdoor championship from a year ago, though only Omole and Hanserd return from that team. This spring, however, the 400 relay's quartet has undergone less fluctuation, with sophomores Dan Goesch and Brian Calhoun filling out the team, which has completed the race in as fast as 40.08 seconds.
"I think also they know and can run a lot faster than what they've run," Nuttycombe said. "We really haven't put the whole thing together yet."
The Big Ten does not seed the decathlon, but UW's four entrants — sophomore Nate Brown, junior Joe Detmer, freshman Peter Dykstra and junior Ben Roland — all could score this weekend.
"(Assistant coach) Mark Napier's done a great job with developing these kids year-in and year-out," Nuttycombe said. "This year's no different. We should have three or four athletes that are up there scoring. At least two of them that are very strong scorers."
Another handful of Badgers are among the favorites in their events this weekend: Brent Boettcher (high jump); Alonzo Moore and Joe Conway in the long jump; Moore and Rick Bellford in the triple jump; Darren Niedermeyer and Wes Ulfig in the pole vault; Joe Thomas in the shot put.
Thomas has thrived in the shot put, where he is ranked third (60-5 ¾) after placing second in the indoor championships. And he has shown marked improvement in the discus, where he is ranked seventh (167-9).
"I think that he's looking and hoping to throw a lot further," Nuttycombe said. "He's had some practice sessions that would show that there's more coming. And so obviously very pleased with the development but I wouldn't be surprised if there was some big leaps coming up here soon."
As strong as UW is in the long and triple jumps, it could be much better. Paul Hubbard, the reigning Big Ten outdoor champ in the long jump and a definite scorer in the triple, suffered a slight tear of his meniscus in a spring football practice and is redshirting this spring.
"It's very minor," Nuttycombe said, adding that Hubbard was "walking around the next day" after undergoing an arthroscopic surgery.
In Hubbard's absence, Moore has stepped into the limelight, building off the success he enjoyed indoors this year, when he placed third in the triple jump at the NCAA championships.
"He's made the leap from a big conference competitor now to a national competitor," Nuttycombe said.
As strong as Wisconsin is this spring, Indiana and Illinois will likely hang right with the Badgers throughout the weekend. The Hoosiers boast the Big Ten's indoor athlete of the year, Arik Wilson, who is expected to win the long and triple jump. David Neville is the defending Big Ten champ in the 200 and 400; Ryan Ketchum is ranked No. 1 in the discus and No. 5 in the shot put; and Sean Jefferson is a favorite in the 1,500. Indiana also thrives in the relays.
Illinois' depth is impressive. The Illini have potential scorers in every event accept the 1,500, javelin, hammer and high jump. Led by Andre English and Abe Jones, Illinois should do very well in the sprints, sprint relays and hurdles. The Illini also boast three of the top five ranked runners in the 800.