2006 Big Ten Men's Cross Country Championships Preview
Top-ranked Wisconsin is looking for its record-tying eighth consecutive Big Ten Championship this Sunday, Oct. 29, when all 10 conference cross country squads converge at the Indiana Cross Country Course in Bloomington, Ind., on the campus of Indiana University.
For the first time in 10 years, Indiana will host the Big Ten Cross Country Championships on Sunday, Oct. 30, at Indiana University Cross Country Course in Bloomington, Ind. The women's 6,000-meter race will begin at 10:45 a.m. ET followed by the men's 8,000-meter run at 11:30 a.m. The top men's and women's teams will be crowned league champion and earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships. The top seven finishers will be named to the All-Conference first team and finishers eight through 14 will be designated with second team honors.
Here's a quick look at some of the top athletes to watch for in this year's championships:
In the men's race, the top-ranked Wisconsin Badgers look to keep their dynasty alive after claiming their seventh straight Big Ten Championship last year behind senior Simon Bairu's third individual championship in as many years
The Badgers, who are the defending national champions, posted a near-perfect finish and Big Ten record 16 points last year as they placed five of the top-six runners en route to the conference title. Two years ago, UW placed seven of its runners in the top 21, but last year put eight in the top nine spots. Wisconsin also boasted the largest margin of victory in Big Ten history last year with an 85-point win over Ohio State.
A new Big Ten individual champion will be crowned this year with the absence of two-time national champion Bairu. Senior Chris Solinsky enters as the race favorite after placing third in his freshman season in 2003 and runner-up to Bairu the past two seasons. Wisconsin has claimed seven individual titles in the past eight years and 25 overall to go along with 39 total team titles.
Illinois' veteran duo in junior Trent Hoerr and senior Jason Bill is coming off a strong performance at the Pre-National meet and ready to lead the Illini against the Big Ten field. Hoerr finished first for the Orange and Blue with an 8K personal-best 24:26, while Bill crossed the finish line in 24:29. Among others competing for the Illini are freshman Jeremy Stevens, senior Maciej Sniegorski and junior Dan Stock. With Stock returning as the team's top conference championships finisher (33rd, 25:28.88), the Illini look to improve on their 11th-place finish from last season.
The Indiana Hoosiers were the closest to ending Wisconsin's title run last year, placing a distant second with 101 points.
In its first meet with the entire team, Indiana recorded a dominating performance at the George Mason Invitational on Sept. 30 with a first-place team score of 23 points. Hoosier senior Marcus Aguilar helped Indiana to its title, placing ninth overall. He also recorded his season-best time of 25:08 on Oct. 14 at Pre-Nationals, where he was Indiana's second-fastest runner.
Redshirt freshman Jordan Kyle led the way in his first meet of the season, capturing the individual title in the George Mason Invite with a in a career-best 24:45.36. At Pre-Nationals on Oct. 14, redshirt sophomore Mark Fruin paced the Hoosiers with a career-best time of 24:49 in the 8K to finish 90th in a field of 243 runners.
Last season Iowa recorded its third-straight upper division finish at the Big Ten meet before competing at the NCAA Championships for the third time in four years. The Hawkeyes also ended the last two seasons ranked in the Top 20 nationally.
While Iowa's top two runners from 2005 return in Eric MacTaggart and Micah VanDenend, four of the program's mainstays (Dan Haut, Matt Esche, Brian Rae and Adam Roche) have graduated. However, Iowa returns four of the top seven finishers from the 2005 regional meet. MacTaggart and VanDenend each earned all-region honors with MacTaggart leading the way in three races and setting. In their last outing, the Hawkeyes earned a fifth place finish at the pre-NCAA meet behind VanDenend (6th, 23:39).
Michigan, who fell one point short of fourth-place Iowa last year, returns 11 letter winners to the Big Ten Championships field. Mike Woods, who took 15th overall with a time of 24:52.78, led the Wolverines to a fifth-place team performance (125 points) at last season's Championships. Sophomore Lex Williams has led the Wolverines across the finish line for three straight times this season, including when he set an 8K personal best (24:02.7) as he took 23rd overall in the Pre-Nationals competition.
Last week, Michigan ran three runners unattached at the 10,000-meter EMU Classic with an impressive showing from freshman Ciaran O'Lionaird, who crossed the finish line in fifth place with a time of 32:19. Another young but bright spot in the Wolverines' lineup is Brandon Fellows. The sophomore was named Big Ten Conference Runner of the Week for his winning performance at the Michigan Open (Sept. 1). Competing in his first collegiate race, Fellows finished ahead of the entire Michigan Open pack, completing the 10,000-meter course in 32:14.
The Michigan State Spartans are ready to break a streak of their own, after finishing seventh at the Big Ten Championships in each of the past three seasons. The Spartans are in search of their first top five since 2000, and will look to add to their collection of 14 team titles, the last of which was won in 1971.
The Spartans have relied on depth to secure top-10 finishes in two of the three scored meets this season, including taking the team title at the Spartan Invitational on Sept. 15. Junior Stephan Shay has paced the team in each of the four races this season, producing three top-20 finishes. Shay captured the individual title at the Spartan Invitational and earned Big Ten Runner of the Week honors for the performance.
The Minnesota Gophers dropped two spots to No. 14 in the latest coaches' poll, but Gopher senior Antonio Vega is primed to leap up the leaderboard after capturing second-team All-Big Ten honors with a 13th-place finish in 2005. His best performance this fall also called for a 13th-place finish at the talent-laden Griak Invitational in late September. Joining Vega at the head of the pack throughout the season has been sophomore Chris Rombough, who hopes to use the momentum from a second-place finish at the Jim Drews Invitational two weeks ago.
Rombough's performance earned him Big Ten Runner of the Week accolades. The 18th-place finisher in last year's Big Ten Championships will push Vega and the rest of the field for a shot at the individual title. The pairs' experience will bode well for true freshman Mike Torchia, a consistent third or fourth finisher for the Gophers this season who will likely play an important part in any Gopher success.
The Ohio State Buckeyes head to the conference meet after powering to an 18th-place finish at the Pre-National competition with four of its individual Top 5 earning spots in the Top 100. The team received a huge performance from freshman Chad Balyo, who paced the unit with a 47th-place finish in a time of 24:27.0. His time was the third-best by all Big Ten runners in the event.
Last season, the men's team finished second at the Big Ten championships, the second best finish in team history. It also was the fifth time in team history that the Buckeyes were runner up at the league meet. The Buckeyes return four runners from that team, all of whom finished in the Top 30 in the event. Jeff See will look to improve on his 16th-place finish from last year, while John Ealy will look to top his 18th -place finish in the conference meet.
Coming into the Big Ten championships this season, the men's team boasts 17 Top 10 finishes by its runners. Alex Bailey, Glenn Collins and Ealy all have finished in the Top 10 in at least three events. Ealy also has two individual titles to his credit on the season. Bailey was named Big Ten Runner of the Week on Oct. 10 after leading the Buckeyes to the All-Ohio Championship team title for the second season in a row. He finished third overall with an 8K time of 25:33.6.
With Bailey's Big Ten runner of the week award following the All-Ohio Championships, the men's team took home the conference honor in each of its first three meets. Fellow junior Ealy also won the award following the Xavier and Buckeye Invitationals in September.
This season's breakout success of Penn State has been lead by senior All-American Dan Mazzocco, who is looking forward to facing some of the Big Ten's best. His teammates Chris Nirschel, Teddy Quinn and Tyler McCandless have all shown themselves to be capable scorers, giving Mazzocco plenty of depth to lead.
Mazzocco is coming off a top-40 finish in the pre-NCAA race, and has three top two performances to his credit. In the Nittany Lions runner-up showing at the Lock Haven Invitational, the senior harrier posted a 10K performance of 31:58.85. A 16th-place finisher a year ago, Mazzocco will look to lead Penn State in improving its position in the team standings - most recently a ninth-place showing.
The Boilermakers only placed one runner in the top 50 last year, with Stadt's 56th place finish of 26:11.58 coming in second for the team.