LINCOLN — A lot of calculus goes into deciding the best strategy to win the Big Ten track championship, Nebraska coach Gary Pepin said.
But with two weekends left before the Big Ten indoor championships in Geneva, Ohio, the picture figures to clear up quickly. After this weekend — which will see Nebraska send competitors to the Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville, Ark., and the Iowa State Classic in Ames, Iowa — Pepin figures he’ll be close to finalizing the 32-competitor rosters NU will take to the conference meet.
“There’s a lot of strategy involved if you’re a team that’s trying to win a championship,” Pepin said. “We go trying to win a championship.”
The No. 9 Huskers project to be neck-and-neck with No. 5 Wisconsin and No. 7 Penn State for the Big Ten crown. NU’s men own 32 top-10 placings in the indoor events. However, those rankings factor in several NU athletes who won’t compete in events at the conference meet.
For example, sophomore Levi Gipson, the conference leader in the 600 meters, also has the sixth-best time in the 400; however, Gipson will only run the 600 at the Big Ten meet.
Another factor, Pepin said, is that several top Big Ten competitors have not competed yet as they try to stay fresh or peak at the end of the brief indoor season. Pepin said most athletes across the conference will see action this weekend, though.
“A lot of the best teams in the conference that have very strong distance programs — and this is one of the best distance conferences in the country — they haven’t even run a lot of their kids in distances this season,” Pepin said. “All of a sudden, this week you’ll see them running.”
The Tyson Invitational, hosted by top-ranked and defending national champion Arkansas, features top programs Wisconsin, LSU, Auburn, Texas and Baylor, among others.
Pepin said while it’s rare to have competitors emerge this late in the season, this weekend should provide insight on how best to structure relays for the conference meet and where the Huskers can take advantage of their depth.
The strategy is complicated because some schools aren’t striving to win a conference title. Those schools may have an athlete who could score in multiple events, but chooses to focus on one event in hopes of qualifying for nationals. That especially affects the quality of relays.
But for Nebraska, the conference title has always been the goal, which means some Huskers might find themselves being asked to score in multiple events.
“Nothing depends on any one person in there for us,” Pepin said. “We have to have hits up and down the line. We can’t have people striking out or false starting or dropping batons. If that happens, I think Penn State would probably run away with the meet.”