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March 10, 2014

Mick Byrne

THE MODERATOR:  The men's and women's track and field teams compete at the NCAA Indoor Championships Friday and Saturday in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  A total of seven Badgers will be competing including Michael Lihrman, who has the top mark in the country in the weight throw; Reed Connor, who has the top time in the country in the 5,000 meters; and Japheth Cato, a two‑time NCAA runner‑up in the heptathlon.
Director of Cross Country and Track & Field Mick Byrne is here.  We will have some opening comments and take questions.
MICK BYRNE:  Before we jump ahead to this weekend, I'd like to still enjoy last weekend and the Big Ten Championship.  And obviously we got some outstanding performances from a lot of student‑athletes, a lot of big points.  Some of them were expected; some of them not expected.
In true Big Ten fashion, that meet came down to the last two events, which obviously were very exciting for us.  The 5,000 meters were‑‑ we went one, two, three, and scored 24 points and made things a little bit easier for us in the 4x4, the last event, where you don't often get to the meet in the last event and all you have to do is just get the baton around the track.
For our athletes, that was a very exciting weekend.  The championship for me, my first Big Ten Championship as head of Combined program.
So jumping ahead to next weekend.  Rankings just came out this morning.  We're now ranked fourth.  As Brian said, we're bringing some big guns to the meet on the men's side.  We have six student‑athletes.  And on the women's side we have one, Deanna Latham.
The six men are all in good position.  They're all ranked within the top ten.  So, hopefully, if things go our way and we carry some momentum, some luck from the Big Ten meet into the National Championships, we can score some big points.

Q.  It says that Mike has the best throw in the weight throw in the whole world.  Is he that good, or is that a relatively new event?
MICK BYRNE:  Oh, it's definitely not a new event.  It was held this past weekend.  The World Championships were held over the weekend, and Michael is still top of the leader board.  So going into the national meet‑‑ there's‑‑ in the conference it's a very popular event, very strong event in the conference.  I think we have three or four athletes in the top five or six in the country.
So within our region, it's very strong.  And hopefully he can carry that momentum.  He's going to have some very, very strong competition.  He's in great form.  He's very confident right now.  Obviously, his NCAA leading throw shows he's in great form in coming into‑‑ he's peaking right now.
So he's excited about it.  But it is a national meet.  This is something new for Michael.  He hasn't competed at the NCAA meet before.

Q.  Mick, you talked about having the potential to score a lot of points.  How many points in an indoor national meet are a lot, and what do the other big dogs have in terms of qualifiers and the potential to be right there in the end with you?
MICK BYRNE:  Well, the other big dogs, Florida, Arkansas, they've got a lot of‑‑ probably a lot more athletes in the meet than us, and that certainly helps.
You know, last year we scored somewhere around in the mid‑20s, and that got us third place.  So it doesn't take an awful lot of points, but I think we're certainly going to need 30‑plus to come home with a trophy.

Q.  Mick, you were on the outside looking in in '07 when this program won the indoor championship.  Were you going, "Of course Wisconsin can win," or were you a little surprised that a school from the Big Ten, a school from a northern climate was able to do something like that?
MICK BYRNE:  I think a lot of people around the country were surprised.  But when you look at the number of people they brought to the meet, there was potential there for scoring points across the board.  And when you have that option, you can put up some big points.
Fortunately for us this coming weekend, we're leaving what I consider a few points back here.  Austin Mudd, who was third last year in the mile, did not make it into the meet.  He was the first guy out.  Fortunately, Austin didn't hit form until last weekend at the Big Ten meet.  He did have a great meet.  He was runner‑up in the 800 meters.  He ran a great opening leg for us on the DM.  But it's too much too late.
Also, Alex Hatz had an incredible Big Ten meet.  Up until the Wednesday before the meet, we were redshirting him.  We took him out of his redshirt year.  We thought we needed him to win the meet, and it turns out we didn't need him.  Alex ran a great anchor leg on the DM.
And, you know, in a tough mile‑‑ they obviously jogged around.  In the mile when you see a time, a performance of 4:15, 4:16, that's not even a good high school time.  But those guys ripped the last 400 meters, and unfortunately Alex got caught on the rail and didn't get out and he ended up third, but he showed at the meet that he's in great form.
So unfortunately for us, we're leaving both Alex and Austin Mudd at home, and I think both of them had potential to score big points at the NCAA meet.

Q.  Mick, how do you best maximize a guy like J. Cato?  He has the capability of winning the pole vault.  He's got the capability of winning the long jump, he's got the hep.  But any thought on just throwing him out there and letting him go to town and to do what he can do?
MICK BYRNE:  Well, you ‑‑ I mean, if you know Cato, and I think most of you do, that he's a high‑energy guy, very passionate.  Coach Nate Davis did a great job at the Big Ten meet in controlling some of that because there's a lot of energy, a lot of wasted energy sometimes.  And Cato is one of those guys that responds to the crowd, responds to his coaches.  You kind of have to let him have some freedom, but you have to rein him in a little bit also.
At the NCAA meet, we will compete him in the pole vault.  Right now he's ranked fourth.  And obviously in the heptathlon.  He's one of two or three guys that can win the heptathlon if he has a good weekend, but he could also end up fourth or fifth.
Ziemek feeds off the energy that Cato throws out there, and we think that Ziemek can score big also.

Q.  What's the relationship like between Mohammed and Reed when they're running together?
MICK BYRNE:  I don't know if anyone has seen the video of the race, the end of the race from Big Tens.  They feed off each other.  They help each other.  Halfway through the race, Reed looked at me.  I know he wanted to go after Mohammed, but it was more important that he stay back and didn't take the rest of the field into the race and go after Mohammed.
He also played a big part of pulling Malachy Schrobilgen, a redshirt freshman, back into that 5,000 meters.  And I think Malachy fed more off Reed's energy than Mo feeding off‑‑ Reed feeding off Mo's energy.
I mean, they help each other out.  But on Friday night when they got on the 5,000 meters, they're going to try to win that race.  They're going to try to score big points for us.  But they are great friends, great teammates.

Q.  I'll give you an opportunity to sell us on the possibility that you're an underdog in this meet.  Do you see it that way?
MICK BYRNE:  Yes.  I mean, we're ranked fourth.  I'm not a big‑‑ I don't spend a lot of time analyzing the rankings.  I know if we go into the meet and our kids put their best foot forward and compete the way they have been all season, I think we can score some big points.  And then we're in with a shot.  I don't know if we're in a shot of winning, but we're certainly within a shot of getting a trophy.
Thank you.

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