It’s About To Get Nutty(combe) In Wisconsin

EDITOR’S NOTE: Parts of this story originally appeared on the USTFCCCA Facebook page on October 15, 2015, as part of a “Feature Friday.” CLICK HERE to read the original post.

“One of the best things about this meet is that people understand head-to-head competition. Every coach is going to run a full team and race hard. There is no hiding out there.” ~ Wisconsin coach Mick Byrne told the USTFCCCA back in 2015

It started as a modest proposal.

Wisconsin coach Mick Byrne, frustrated with the pre-national system in NCAA Division I Cross Country, decided to host his own meet that same weekend. Plus, Byrne wanted to show off the brand-new Thomas Zimmer Championship Cross Country Course and planned on inviting 8-10 teams per gender, per year, to Madison, Wisconsin.

And thus, the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational was born in 2009.

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Sounds simple enough, right? Well, word got out.

By 2012, the original plan of 16-20 teams ballooned to 83.

Seventy-four teams toed the starting line in championship races in 2014.

That number has since been adjusted to anywhere between 65 and 70.

“I mean, the course can hold everybody – but this meet grew into a monstrosity,” Byrne said back in 2015. “As it turns out, a lot of other coaches were tired of how the seeded races worked at the Pre-National Invitational and wanted another option.”

While Byrne bemoans the size of the meet and how it takes an oversized role in the NCAA championship qualifying process, he understands the importance of the meet when it comes to generating excitement for the sport.

“There is a lot of hype surrounding it, for better or worse,” Byrne said. “From a spectators’ point of view and marketing our sport, it’s fantastic. People are talking about it on social media, the national rankings are bound to change and it has really taken on this whole persona of its own.

“One of the best things about this meet is that people understand head-to-head competition. Every coach is going to run a full team and race hard. There is no hiding out there.”

Competition will be fierce on Friday.

No. 1 vs. No. 2 vs. No. 3 in the Men’s 8k Championship.

No. 1 vs. No. 2 vs. No. 4 in the Women’s 6k Championship.

All told, 43 teams that were ranked among the top-30 of their respective National Coaches’ Poll in Week 4 will vie for top honors in the Badger State. Read that again: 43.

More than half of those 43 teams – 24, to be exact – are in the Women’s 6k Championship, set to begin at 12:20 pm CT. That means only six top-30 programs won’t be in Mad City. Our focus is on the ones that are, however. Eight of those are in the top-10 (No. 1 NC State, No. 2 New Mexico, No. 4 Northern Arizona, No. 5 BYU, No. 7 Colorado, No. 8 Stanford, No. 9 Washington and No. 10 Notre Dame), plus nine from No. 11 to No. 20 and seven from No. 21 to No. 30.

That leaves 19 ranked squads for the Men’s 8k Championship at 1 pm CT, headlined by No. 1 BYU vs. No. 2 Stanford vs. No. 3 Northern Arizona. Throw in No. 5 Tulsa, No. 6 Wisconsin, No. 8 Colorado, No. 9 Syracuse and No. 10 North Carolina, plus 11 others and you have a party.

If a team is successful at the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational, chances are it will fare well at the NCAA Championships in November, because the competitive nature is similar. Dating back to 2009, five men’s team champions went on to win national titles, as did five women’s programs: Wisconsin (2011), Syracuse in (2015) and NAU (2016, 2017, 2018) for the men; Michigan State (2014), New Mexico (2015, 2017), Colorado (2018) and Arkansas (2019) for the women.

The same could be said about individuals, too. Seven individual champions in this meet have been crowned NCAA Champions one month later: Lawi Lalang (2011), Justyn Knight (2017), Morgan McDonald (2018) and Edwin Kurgat (2019) in the men’s race; Sheila Reid (2011), Abbey D’Agostino (2013) and Ednah Kurgat (2017) in the women’s race.

You don’t want to miss the Nuttycombe Wisconsin Invitational in 2022.