Wisconsin adidas Invitational – Madison, Wis.
When/Where: Saturday, Thomas Zimmer Championship Course in Madison, Wis.
Women: 11 a.m. MT - 6km
Men: 10 a.m. MT - 8km
Live Coverage: Flotrack.org
By Ross Millington
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Expectations are labeled as “high” by coach Joe Franklin as the University of New Mexico’s nationally ranked cross country teams head back to the midwest for the Wisconsin adidas Invitational in Madison, Wis. on Saturday. The No. 25 men will compete at 10 a.m. MT, and the No. 7 women at 11 a.m. MT.
Outside of conference championships and the national championships themselves, this is the biggest weekend on the 2013 cross country calendar, with the Lobos looking to boost their qualification chances for the NCAA Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, Ind., on November 23.
“We’re not going to Wisconsin to eat cheese curds,” Franklin said of the business-like trip to Madison, with the sole objective of gaining points towards the national meet.
On the men’s side, 18 of the 35 teams competing are nationally ranked, providing the Lobos with a great opportunity to score wins over teams currently ranked above them in the nation, or those that have an easier route to the national championship through their respective region.
“There are some teams there with targets on their backs that we need to beat,” Franklin said, being careful not to give away the names of those intended targets.
“We need to get done what we need to get done. Nobody has to be heroic, we just need to be very solid,” Franklin said.
Leading the men throughout 2012 and so far during the 2013 season is senior, and three-time All American, Luke Caldwell. Coming off a second-place finish at the recent Notre Dame Invitational, Caldwell will be looking to assert himself as one of the top runners in the nation on Saturday and help his Lobo teammates in the process.
“I’m looking forward to getting a first indication as to how we stack up against some of the top ranked teams in the country,” Caldwell said.
He and the Lobos will certainly get the chance to do this, with five of the top eight ranked teams in the nation making the trip to Madison this weekend, and two of those teams – No. 3 Northern Arizona and No. 5 Brigham Young – will be regional competition for the Lobos in November, making the Mountain Region the most competitive region in the nation.
Backing up Caldwell will be a number of teammates looking for redemption, after the meet in Notre Dame two weeks ago didn’t quite live up to expectations. Seniors Adam Bitchell, Patrick Zacharias and Sean Stam will provide a strong presence, along with sophomore Elmar Engholm and redshirt freshman Graham Thomas, who impressed at Notre Dame.
Donovan Torres will be added into the team and newcomers Ross Matheson and Alex Cornwell should be looking to improve on their collegiate debuts from Notre Dame.
The Lobos have put in some hard work since their opener two weeks ago, and hope to up the ante in Madison.
“The meet in Wisconsin will suit us better than Notre Dame. The last few weeks of training have gone well so hopefully we will produce a good performance on Saturday,” Bitchell said.
The women’s race should be equally competitive, with 17 of the 36 teams entered being nationally ranked. This includes the No. 1 ranked team in the nation, Providence, and another two from the top five in No. 3 Arizona and No. 4 Washington.
The aim for the No. 7 Lobos will be to provide another solid performance and retain a strong foothold in the rankings heading into the postseason. Franklin pointed out the importance in keeping the time gaps close between each of the Lobos, and running strongly as a unit.
“We need to reduce the time gaps from Notre Dame and reduce the spread of our scorers,” Franklin said.
The Lobos will be led by a strong trio in junior Sammy Silva, senior Charlotte Arter and sophomore Calli Thackery, who all placed in the top eleven at the Lobos’ first race of the season in Notre Dame.
Coming off a third-place showing at the meet in South Bend, Ind., Silva is looking forward to the race on Saturday, as it provides another great opportunity and experience for the Lobos.
“Wisconsin is going to be the most similar race experience to what we could see at Nationals – a very large field with a lot of good teams. I think we will fair even better than at Notre Dame given the transition to racing a 6k this weekend,” Silva said.
Despite such a strong showing at Notre Dame, where the women placed second overall, many believe there is more to come from this very capable team.
“I feel we've got a really talented team and that was shown with being so close to Florida State (ranked second nationally) at Notre Dame, and there's definitely more to come,” Arter said.
“It's still early in the season but this race will prepare us well for nationals at the end of November, it's a great race and gets us used to running in a high caliber field with lots of people,” Arter added.
The Lobos will also travel with the experience of juniors Kirsten Follett and Nicola Hood, who won the open race at Notre Dame, and then a slew of new of newcomers in Tamara Armoush, Nicole Roberts, Heleene Tambet and Amber Zimmerman, who will all be hoping to improve upon their Lobo debuts from Notre Dame.
A format change to the 2013 Wisconsin meet that should help both the men’s and women’s teams is that both races will include more runners per team, increasing from seven to nine, but with fewer overall teams, after last years meet proved to be a congested affair.
“I think this will help string out the race more, and make it easier for us to find each other and make moves,” Franklin said.
Something else that should also aid the Lobos in finding each other during the race will be the introduction of turquoise vests, an old tradition from 1973-79 when the color was integrated into some of the UNM athletics teams.
“I think this will be very important for the women, and also for some of the new guys. They will be able to pick out their teammates and also realize if they are being passed by each other,” Franklin said.
Overall, the conditions and style of the Wisconsin meet should suit the Lobos. The Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course is tough going, with some undulating terrain and a switchback section often exposed to wind. The course in Madison provides a test similar to that of the Lavern Gibson Cross Country Course in Terre Haute, Ind., home of the 2013 national championships.
With the weather expected to be in the mid to low 50s, and winds up to 13mph, conditions will be perfect for the Lobos to pick up some valuable points toward NCAA qualification.
Watch live on Saturday at Flotrack.org and tune into GoLobos.com on Saturday evening for full results and a New Mexico recap.