13. Wisconsin Badgers
Coach: Mick Byrne
Notable Departures: Malachy Schrobilgen, Russell Sandvold
Notable Additions: Finn Gessner, Seth Hirsch, Noah Jacobs, Tannor Wagner
Projected Scoring Five:
Morgan McDonald (SR) [TSR#3], Olin Hacker (Rs. SO), Joe Hardy (SR),
Ben Eidenschink (Rs. SO), Oliver Hoare (SO)
When people think of the Wisconsin Badgers, they think of an elite powerhouse program with a reputation for overwhelming success that is led by a legendary coach. That perception certainly won't be changing in 2017 as the men from Madison, Wisconsin are primed for another strong season.
The Badgers entered 2016 hungry for revenge after a surprising 2015 season where they failed to make Nationals for the first time in 43 years. In typical Wisconsin fashion, the Badgers didn't start their season until the Wisconsin Invite which took place in their own backyard. Of course, like any first big meet, there is usually some rust to shake off. Wisconsin would finish a respectable 11th place overall, but the glaring outlier in the results was that low-stick Malachy Schrobilgen ended the day with a DNF. Luckily, Morgan McDonald made up for that with an incredible 3rd place finish. The other scorers placed 60th, 77th, 81st, and 92nd.
BIG 10's would only be the second race of Wisconsin's season. There, the Badgers emerged victorious as McDonald took the conference crown while Schrobilgen placed 5th overall. The final three scorers put together solid performances with finishes of 12, 21, and 24.
The Great Lakes Regional Championships weren't much different as Wisconsin once again took the title (this time with much more ease). In fact, the results were scary similar to BIG 10's with Schrobilgen and McDonald going 1-2 while Hacker, Hardy, and Eidenshink finished 12th, 15th, and 21st. The Badgers were on fire heading into Nationals and there may not have been a more dangerous team than them.
Mick Byrne and his squad entered NCAA's ready to prove that they were a different team than they were in 2015. Sure enough, that was the case as Wisconsin pushed themselves to the highest level that they had been all year. McDonald placed 6th while Schrobilgen finished 20th (both in the team scoring). The final three scorers finished 51st, 52nd, and 127th overall to give the Badgers an 8th place finish in the team standings. Their big-time finish certainly validated one thing: Wisconsin was still a powerhouse program.
2016 was the rebound year for Wisconsin, but now we must ask ourselves if they can be just as strong in 2017. In my mind, that is more than possible.
One of the most talked about runners in the NCAA this summer has been Morgan McDonald. After a disappointing end to his outdoor track season, the Aussie Badger ran a mind-boggling 13:15 5k to qualify for the IAAF World Championships. With that performance, McDonald has established himself as a legitimate threat to win the NCAA XC title. His importance to this team can not be emphasized enough.
Behind McDonald will be a slew of talented young individuals. That said, don't mistake their youth for inexperience. Hoare, Hacker, and Eidenshink have shown tremendous poise during the championship season and have progressed very well over time. One of these guys is bound to have a breakout cross country season and if I had to guess, I would pick Hoare to be that guy after he ran a 3:59 mile post-NCAA's earlier this summer.
Joe Hardy will complete this top five as an experienced senior who has now run at the National Championships twice in his career. He has been a very reliable scorer over the years and should continue to do so in 2017.
Yet, what really completes this squad is the phenomenal recruiting class which includes four individuals who have 3200 PR's under 9 minutes. Three of them have run sub-15 minutes in the 5k while Wagner was close behind in 15:05. This recruiting class is simply too deep and too talented to not have an impact in 2017. What's even better is that a lot of these recruits are cross country oriented athletes who have multiple All-American honors to their name. With a class like this, Wisconsin will be strong far beyond just the 2017 season...
Admittedly, the loss of Malachy Schrobilgen will not be easy to overcome. He and McDonald made up one of the best 1-2 punches in the NCAA and consistently gave the Badgers a low-stick scorer since his freshman year. Schrobilgen no longer being on the roster is a big reason why I have the men at #13 in the rankings.
Luckily, Wisconsin has a history of producing multiple elite-level runners. McDonald, Schrobilgen, VanVoorhis, Ahmed, Darling, and Connor are Wisconsin legends who have all come out of Madison within the past five years. I would be very surprised if we didn't see another individual step into the low-stick role that is now vacant. Of course, something like that happening is not always a given.
I like Wisconsin a lot this year and you should too. McDonald is leading a young and budding team that is coming off of a very underrated 2016 season. If they can close the gap between their final three scorers and find another low-stick, then this is a team that could threaten to make the team podium.