The nature of massive, state school Division-I athletic departments means that beyond nation- ally competitive football and/or basketball teams, you’re probably going to have a few “minor” programs that rank among the perennially elite in the NCAA. Wisconsin’s men’s cross country is one of those programs.
In their history, the Badgers have won five national titles (and placed second in the NCAA Championships 10 times), 30 individual Big Ten championships and 47 team Big Ten Championships. Do the math and Wisconsin has won 44 percent of all Big Ten Championships since the inaugural 1908 meet. That is insane.
Last year continued the dominance, with UW bringing home a Big Ten Championship, sophomore Malachy Schrobilgen winning the individual Big Ten title and the team qualifying for the National NCAA Championship by winning the Great Lakes Regional, its 12th regional win in the last 13 years. At Nationals, UW finished 10th, it’s 18th straight Top 10 finish.
This is all to say that, yeah, Wisconsin’s men’s cross country is pretty decent. It’s thanks to a strong talent pipeline from the state of Wisconsin, good recruiting outside the state to fill the gaps and an elite line of coaching back to the program’s pre-World War II days.
Director of Cross Country and Track & Field Mick Byrne took over two years ago for legendary 22-time Big Ten Coach of the Year Ed Nuttycombe and has done well, even though the program’s Big Ten championship streak record was broken in his first year.
He brings back Schrobilgen (a two-time Big Ten Cross Country Athlete of the Year) and a truckload of talent to keep the program a source of pride for the athletic department. Of Wisconsin’s top seven runners, only the graduated Michael Van Voorhis doesn’t return. Four of those seven were also freshmen last season, which is even more encouraging for the program going forward.
Most Wisconsin fans are never going to attend a cross country meet at the school’s Zimmer Course, but you can bet when it comes to showing off UW as a fantastic all-around athletic school, the cross country program is going to stay in the conversation for the foreseeable future.