Oct. 28, 2005
The Big Ten Men's Cross Country Championships are set for Sunday, October 30th. The Big Ten boasts six teams ranked amonng the top 30 in the country, with the Wisconsin Badgers at No. 2. Wisconsin won last year's title for its sixth consecutive Big Ten Championships victory and returns the top two individual finishers from 2004. The two-time defending champ Simon Bairu looks to lead the Badgers to victory when the 8,000 meter event takes place at Minnesota's Les Bolstad Golf Course. The top seven finishers will be named to the All-Conference first team and finishers eight through 14 will be designated to the second team.
The Illini enter the Big Ten Championships after a 23rd place finish in the Indiana State Pre-NCAA meet and are led by senior Eric Wallor and sophomore Dan Stock. Stock returned for his second race of the year since the season-opener to post the team's season-best 8K time of 24:52. His performance was tops for the Illini, and Wallor finished second for the team with a time of 25:17. Sophomore Maciej Sniegorski notched a 25:20-finish at the Pre-NCAA race for the team's third place and leads a group of fellow second-year runners who have anted up big contributions for the Illini this season. Sophomores Justin Aronson, Matt Flaherty, Michael Kelley and Tim Kelly, along with redshirt freshman Ian Clausen, give Illinois depth. Freshman Tim Maier is the lone freshman to remain a consistent factor in the Illini attack. He raced for a season-high 25:35-finish at the Sean Earl Lakefront Invitational. Illinois finished in eighth place on junior Trent Hoerr's 17th-place finish at 24:46 and senior Jason Bill coming in at 22nd.
Currently ranked 22nd in the country, the Hoosiers are the fourth of six Big Ten squads ranked nationally. In their last race at the Indiana State Pre-NCAA contest, the Hoosiers finished eighth as a team. Senior Sean Jefferson, the Hoosiers' two-time All-American, paced Indiana with a 16th-place run, finishing the 8K race at 24:09. Jefferson leads a group of six seniors who returned from last year's squad, including his twin brother John Jefferson, Eric Redman, Steven Haas, Charlie Koeppen and William Coale. John Jefferson ran a 24:30-race at the Pre-NCAA meet for third on the team, finishing just behind Haas' 24:48 finish. Redman started the 2005 season strong, claiming the No. 1 spot overall for the Hoosiers in their first two meets this season with a sixth-place overall finish at the IU Community 5K and second-place run in the Indiana Intercollegiates. Sean and John Jefferson paced Indiana's second-place team finish in the 2004 conference championships and the Hoosiers finished in the top 5 of the league for the fifth straight season. Sean Jefferson led the Hoosiers' effort with a time of 24:30, and John Jefferson crossed the finish line one second behind him at 24:31. The Hoosiers are looking to claim their 14th team title but have to have solid last-time-out races from their experienced senior squad against this year's bunch of dominating conference competition.
The Hawkeyes' fourth-place finish at the Pre-NCAAs earned Iowa, which finished third at last year's conference championships, a No. 11 national ranking. That standing is good for second-best in the Big Ten, behind No. 2 Wisconsin. In Iowa coach Larry Wieczorek's 18-year tenure, the Hawkeyes did not crack the league's top five team standings at the championships until last year's third-place performance. Junior Micah VanDenend paced the Hawkeyes in 2004, earning the team's only All-Big Ten honor with a 14th place finish. He was followed closely by sophomore Eric MacTaggart. This season, that same duo has paced Iowa. At the Pre-NCAA meet, MacTaggart finished first with a time of 24:17 for 22nd overall. Juniors Jeff Kent and VanDenend, along with senior Dan Haut, finished within six seconds of one another for top-50 standings. Wieczorek said he hopes that performance has prepared the Hawkeyes to peak at the right time for the most intense competition of the season. "This meet is a very important step for our team," he said. "We are coming off our best performance last week and hope to keep improving and taking steps forward. I'm hoping the team will keep getting better in the championship part of our season."
Another national power, No. 17 Michigan, brings a young but talented team to the Big Ten championships. After finishing fifth last year, the Wolverines have quickened their pace and climbed the rankings. While three runners have claimed the No. 1 spot for the Wolverines this season, sophomore Mike Woods has led the team for its last three races. Woods finished 11th overall at the Indiana State Pre-NCAA meet, and helped Michigan to a team finish of sixth. Woods, who is one of two scorers from the Wolverines' fifth-place squad at the league championships, also trimmed 23 seconds from his 8K personal best. Junior Andrew Ellerton notched a career-best 24:34-finish at the meet and finished second for Michigan. Junior Andrew Bauer, the other Michigan scorer from last year's championships, started the season by pacing the Wolverines with a fourth-place individual finish at the Michigan Open. Freshman Justin Switzer also led the team in the Spartan Invitational. Filling out Michigan's crew, senior Rondell Ruff leads a young group, with sophomores Seth Thibodeau and Ethan Brown and freshmen Lex Williams and Victor Gras all capable of giving the Wolverines a huge boost. Last year at the championships, only 21 points separated the Wolverines from second-place Indiana.
After finishing at seventh for the past two years, the Spartans are looking for their experienced squad to break through in the conference championships. Michigan State returns three of its top five runners from 2004. Sophomore Dustin Voss, who finished second for the Spartans last year, ran a time of 25:08 for an overall fourth-place finish at the EMU Classic last weekend. Freshman Stephan Shay led the squad early in the season, claiming the team's top finishes at its first two meets, and seniors Nick Oertel and Nate Egger have taken turns pacing the squad in is biggest challenges. Oertel led the Spartans to a 13th-place team finish at the Roy Griak Invitational, and Egger, who finished third for the Spartans in last year's championships, paced the squad on its way to 15th at the Pre-NCAA meet with an individual finish of 24:36. If the Spartans are to make 2005 their breakthrough year at the conference event, they will need sharp runs from junior Justin Zonotti, Jim Pancoast and Matt Bartlebaugh.
The Gophers hold the fifth spot among nationally-ranked conference teams, and currently hold the No. 23 position. Despite claiming second among 23 teams at the Jim Drews Invitational on Oct. 15, the Gophers slipped three spots in the national standings. All-region performers, senior co-captain Erik Grumstrup and junior Antonio Vega, who was the third Minnesota finisher in the 2004 championships race, returned for their first race of the season to propel the team to its best finish of the year. Senior Ryan Malmin has led the Gophers in two of their three races, including a seventh-place individual finish at the race with a time of 24:28. Malmin enters the championships as the only returning Gopher with All-Big Ten honors from last year's event, hoping to improve on his 10th-place finish.
The Buckeyes moved to No. 26 in the national poll with a 10-place finish at the Indiana State Pre-NCAA meet. Senior captain Brian Olinger notched a career-best time of 23:56 for an individual finish at eighth, the highest-place of any Big Ten runner. It marked his second top-10 finish of the year and the second time in his three meets that Olinger has paced the Buckeyes'. John Ealy also scored with a 24:49-finish, and Braden Martinez and Alex Bailey both finished with a time 24:58. Olinger, who earned the Buckeyes' third conference Runner of the Week honor, earned All-Big Ten First Team honors at last year's league championships, placing seventh. The Buckeyes, who finished sixth in the conference in 2004, improved five spots from their finish at last year's Pre-NCAA race. Ohio State also charted a school-best performance in the Roy Griak Invitational, and won three meets this season, including its second-straight title at the All-Ohio Championships. The sixth conference team in the national rankings, Ohio State will need big races from its freshman Jeff See and Levi Fox to make a run at the conference title.
The Nittany Lions are coming off a 10th-place performance at the National Invitational they hosted last weekend, and hope to improve on last year's ninth-place effort at the Big Ten Championships - no easy feat with six of the ten teams ranked in the nation's top 30. "The Big Ten is the toughest cross country conference in the country," said Penn State coach Harry Groves. "We're going to try to make an indentation (in those rankings)." Junior Dan Mazzocco, who led the Lions in last year's race with a 20th-place individual finish, will look to lead the Lions once again. He paced the squad at the National meet, finishing 26th with a time of 25:59. Sophomore Oskar Nordenbring finished second in the meet. The twosome of Mazzocco and Nordenbring has led the Lions this season, claiming the No. 1 and 2 spots in their last three meets. The Lions have a group of well-seasoned runners rounding out their core in seniors John Iannacone, Christopher Nirschel, Sean Kennedy and Ian McCann.
After a finishing the 2004 conference championships in 10th, the Boilermakers are looking for an improvement. Despite a promising first-place finish at the Great American Legends meet, the Boilermakers finished 29th at the Pre-NCAA meet at Indiana State in their first true test of the season. David Rae was the top Purdue finisher, running a strong 24:45.8 for a 66th-place finish individually. Rae has finished in the top three places for the Boilermakers in each of his races this season. Another solid contributer and No. 1 Purdue runner in the Great American Legends race, Justin Stadt finished with a time of 25:18.4, and Zach Wilder placed 136th. Michial Jacob and Eric Hammond round out the Boilermakers top unit. The Boilermakers need an all-around solid race to move up in the conference standings.
The Badgers look to extend their Big Ten title streak to seven this weekend with the reigning individual conference champion, senior Simon Bairu, leading the way. Last year Wisconsin claimed the top three positions to win the team title by a conference record 81 points. Bairu captured his second consecutive individual title with a time of 23:45. Junior Chris Solinsky followed closely in second with a time of 23:55. Bairu and Solinsky earned first-team All-Big Ten honors, and three other Badgers finished in the top 20. Senior Bobby Lockhart, who finished 11th at 24:34, and junior Tim Nelson, who claimed 13th place at 24:36, also return for the Badgers' 2005 campaign. Spiker earned All-Big Ten First Team status while Lockhart and Nelson notched All-Big Ten Second Team distinctions. The Badgers, who are currently ranked second in the country, have had four runners pace their team this year. Bairu claimed the overall top spot in the Roy Griak invitational, and the next weekend, Solinsky finished first in the Notre Dame Invitational, the first victory of his collegiate career. Redshirt freshman claimed the first win of his career with a win at the Jim Drews Invitational. If the Badgers exploit their depth to stay ahead of the pack, the Wisconsin dynasty could claim another title.