If any program can be considered a dynasty, it must be the Wisconsin men’s cross country program. Entering his ninth year as head coach, Jerry Schumacher has led the Badger men to eight Big Ten titles and coached numerous All-Americans.But before last season, Schumacher’s Badgers had yet to capture that elusive national title, despite four second place finishes, including three in a row in 2002, 2003 and 2004.According to Schumacher, “it felt pretty good” to finally finish on top of the NCAA mountain. He said it was great to see the guys be able to celebrate, especially after the disappointing finish they went through the year before. Wisconsin entered the NCAA championships as the clear favorite, but a sloppy, rain soaked course was navigated better by Colorado, as the Buffaloes denied the Badgers the national title.Schumacher added that it was an emotional day for the program guys, and he said the alumni support was great for the program.After losing five seniors from the national champion team, including four of the top nine runners on the squad and two-time defending NCAA individual champion Simon Bairu, the Badgers are still expected to do big things as evidenced by the top ranking placed on them this week by the U.S. Track and Field and Cross Country Coaches Association.The Badgers’ coach was a little more tempered in his expectations.”The competition gets better every year,” said Schumacher. “We are always a team where our goal is to be at the top of the list.”If the team is able to stay healthy and trains well, Schumacher is confident Wisconsin will be in the hunt to make a run at winning the title again this season.The Badgers got a chance to see some of the potential replacements for graduated seniors in last weekend’s Pioneer Harrier Invitational hosted by Carroll College.Wisconsin captured first place by sweeping the first four positions, along with a seventh-place runner for a dominating total of 17 points.Redshirt freshman Brandon Bethke paced the Badgers, finishing the 8,000 meter course in 25:50. Sophomore Christian Wagner finished with Bethke in a time of 25:50. Close behind were redshirt freshman Ryan Gasper in 25:53 and senior Ben Porter in 25:55.Rounding out the scoring five for the Badgers was redshirt freshman Tim Pierie, who finished seventh in a time of 26:45.Schumacher pointed out Bethke, Gasper and Pierie as runners he expects to potentially step up into scoring roles for the Badgers this season.However, the coach pointed out that the meet was just an opener and that not much stock should be put in it.He said somewhere along the line he will be splitting the team into squads, and in another eight weeks he said he will know who will help the Badgers in their quest for a repeat national championship.But the Badgers also bring back many other talented and experienced runners from last year’s squad, including senior Chris Solinsky, who finished third at the NCAA meet last year. Other returnees competing in last year’s NCAA race include sophomores Matt Withrow, Stu Eagon and Wagner along with senior Tim Nelson.Schumacher also has high hopes for his talented freshman class, which includes Ryan Craven from Mount Prospect, Ill., Landon Peacock from Morley, Mich., Jack Bolas from Chapel Hill, N.C., and Noah Shannon of Fort Collins, Colo.
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