If last month’s Greater Louisville Classic served as the appetizer to Big Ten competition, then consider the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational the all-you-can-eat buffet.
Of the 46 teams competing in the men’s 8K race on Friday afternoon in Madison, 11 of the Big Ten schools are represented, while 10 of the Big Ten members are entered in the field of 49 for the women’s 6K race.
“Having this much quality competition involved in one meet this early before the championships begin almost never happens,” Wisconsin women’s coach Jim Stintzi said. “What started out as more of a Big Ten meet has really turned into a phenomenon. Everyone wants in on this meet.”
With the Big Ten Championships on the horizon, this meet will serve as the final chance for Penn State to size up its conference competition before returning to Thomas Zimmer Championship Course on Oct. 28.
“The team knows that it will have to dig deeper and work harder this meet,” said coach Beth Alford-Sullivan. “We’ll certainly be keeping an eye on how we do against the other Big Ten schools.”
With all of the hype surrounding the Big Ten congregation this weekend, the upcoming meet figures to organize the pecking order for the conference championships.
“Teams should get an idea of where they stand, but the results of this meet may not necessarily reflect the results of the Big Ten championships,” Stintzi said. “Everyone will be looking to see what they have to do to beat the others next time around.”
Alford-Sullivan had a similar stance.
“You have to keep in mind that this meet will have around 250 athletes on the course while the Big Ten championships will have less than half that many,” Alford-Sullivan said. “It’s a totally different environment, and the results could be dramatically different.”
While Alford-Sullivan and Stintzi each agree that the results of the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational shouldn’t necessarily be viewed as a sign of what’s to come at the Big Ten championships, history shows that there is a correlation between the two.
Since the Wisconsin Adidas Invitational began in 2009, two teams that had the most points of Big Ten competitors on the men’s side of the Invitational also claimed the Big Ten title that same season.
Similarly, the Big Ten women’s team with the highest score in the last two Wisconsin Adidas Invitationals, Michigan State, has also claimed the Big Ten championship each of the previous two seasons.
“I think this meet will serve as a good barometer of where we stand against these other top teams in the conference,” Penn State sophomore Matt Fischer said. “The Big Ten is one of the strongest conferences in cross country, and we want to have a performance that will prove we belong near the top.”
Fischer’s appraisal of the conference’s cross country prowess is supported in the National Coaches’ Poll, which currently has four Big Ten schools ranked in the top 30, paced by defending NCAA champion and host university Wisconsin.
The top-ranked Badgers come into this meet with the target firmly on their backs, as the men have won 30 of the last 35 Big Ten championships.
The Nittany Lions insist, however, that they’re concerned with putting themselves in a great spot to contend with the Big Ten juggernauts.
“This is the No. 1 meet for us during the regular season, and we’ve been preparing to make this weekend our best performance of the year,” Fischer said. “Our goal from day one has been to qualify for the national championship.”
Speaking of championships, the Lions and the rest of the Big Ten charter members will begin their individual quests for regional and national titles from here on out once the final competitor crosses the finish line at Thomas Zimmer Championship Course.
“Most people view this meet as the real start to the season because everyone has had a chance to see how they’ve done thus far,” Stintzi said. “This meet is really the first stop of the championship run.”