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UW cross country photo

University of Wisconsin men's cross country runners Morgan McDonald (968), Joe Hardy (966) and Malachy Schrobilgen (972) run at the front of the lead pack early in the NCAA cross country Great Lakes regional meet on Nov. 11, 2016, at the Thomas Zimmer Championship Course at University Ridge. UW will host the 2018 NCAA cross country championships at Zimmer. 

The Thomas Zimmer Championship Course was built with an NCAA cross country national championship meet in mind, and it’ll have one before its 10th birthday.

The NCAA on Tuesday awarded its 2018 men’s and women’s cross country championships to the University of Wisconsin course, setting the stage for around 500 athletes and 5,000 spectators to see what school officials say is one of the sport’s best venues.

The Zimmer Championship Course opened in 2009 adjacent to University Ridge Golf Course on Madison’s southwest side. It has already held the past five NCAA Great Lakes regionals and the 2010 Big Ten Conference championship.

Landing a national meet, however, has always been the goal.

“It’ll be a really great event,” said Doug Tiedt, UW’s senior associate athletic director who oversees the school’s cross country programs. “It’s one of the premier courses in the country. The fact that it’s a course that’s solely dedicated to cross country is something that hopefully the committee took into consideration.”

It’s the first time Madison will host the cross country nationals since a frosty November day in 1978 at Yahara Hills Golf Course.

Forty years later — and on the other side of the city — Madison will get another opportunity to host the country’s best.

The Zimmer Championship Course’s layout, drainage and spectator vantage points have drawn compliments, but — as with spectator events at University Ridge — parking and access have been concerns.

Those issues didn’t prevent the NCAA from sending the 2018 championship to Zimmer — it’ll be held on Saturday, Nov. 17 — as one of four cross country championship sites announced on Tuesday.

The 2017 event already had been awarded to Louisville, Kentucky. In 2019, it’s going to Terre Haute, Indiana, with 2020’s event in Stillwater, Oklahoma, and the 2021 championship in Tallahassee, Florida.

UW officials expect a crowd of around 5,000 spectators to be at Zimmer on the 2018 race day, but they’re confident plans for off-site parking and shuttles will let things run smoothly.

“This is a testament to the event staff, the facility staff, the coaching staff and to the course itself to be able to have this at the University of Wisconsin,” Tiedt said. “The student-athletes, it’s about them and their experiences. Selfishly, our students won’t have to travel. I think the students who come from around the country are really going to appreciate the experience that they have. We’ll make it a good one.”

The championship features around 500 runners — up to 255 each for women and men — competing for team and individual titles.

The Badgers frequently have been among the teams in the running for those victories. They have won seven national team championships — five by the men and two by the women — and have had seven individual champions.

“Our kids were very excited about it today,” Badgers director of cross country and track and field Mick Byrne said. “They know there’s an advantage to running on your own home course, to train on it. And they’re excited about running in front of our Badgers fans.”

UW also was selected to host a cross country regional again in 2019.

The Badgers, meanwhile, were unsuccessful in bids involving men’s and women’s hockey.

A bid to host the 2019 Women’s Frozen Four at LaBahn Arena wasn’t selected. The 2019-22 events went to Hamden, Connecticut; Boston; Erie, Pennsylvania; and State College, Pennsylvania.

UW was hoping to convince the NCAA to relax its 3,500-seat recommended minimum to allow the championship to be played at 2,273-seat LaBahn Arena.

The school also was part of an unsuccessful bid to host the Men’s Frozen Four in Tampa, Florida, in 2020 or 2021.

UW partnered with the Tampa Bay Sports Commission, which was the local organizer for the bid and put up the financial guarantee but by rule needed an NCAA member as a partner.

The 2018 Men’s Frozen Four site was previously selected as St. Paul, Minnesota. The next four, announced Tuesday, are Buffalo, New York, in 2019; Detroit in 2020; Pittsburgh in 2021; and Boston in 2022.

Madison wasn’t the only Wisconsin city included when the NCAA dished out more than 600 host sites through the 2021-22 season.

The NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament will return to Milwaukee in 2022, when the new Milwaukee Bucks arena will host first- and second-round games.

Oshkosh’s Lake Breeze Golf Club was selected to host the Division III cross country national championship in 2018 and a regional in 2019.

The La Crosse Center will be the site of the 2021 Division III wrestling championship.

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Todd D. Milewski covers Wisconsin Badgers men's hockey and the UW Athletic Department for the Wisconsin State Journal.