Dynamic duo Snider, Hacker, ready for world stage

UW freshmen to race for Team USA in 5000 meters at IAAF World Juniors

MADISON, Wis.—Despite being freshmen, Zack Snider and Olin Hacker are quickly earning their place as a dynamic duo of Wisconsin track athletes.

Coming off of their first year at Wisconsin, the pair will represent the United States in the 5000 meters at the 2016 International Association of Athletics Federation World Junior Championships on July 23 in Bydgoszcz, Poland.

While the two joked about their plans to visit the local Museum of Soap and History of Dirt while in Bydgoszcz, they also reflected on the opportunity to wear the red, white and blue.

“To be able to put on the USA and be able to look down and see it on your chest, it means a lot because you’re representing the entire country,” Hacker, a Madison native, said.

“It’s something that every athlete dreams of,” Snider added. “To make it happen, we were both just really excited, especially that we’re able to go together as teammates.”

Only once before have two members of the Wisconsin men’s track and field program competed in the same IAAF World Junior Championships. In 2004, Paul Hubbard competed in the long jump, while fellow Badger Demi Omole won silver in the 100 meters and gold as a part of the 4×100 meter relay in Grosseto, Italy.

Both Snider and Hacker arrived at the 2016 U.S. Track and Field Junior National Championships in Clovis, California, having already attained the qualifying standard for the world junior championships, which meant a first- or second-place finish among the qualifiers would guarantee a spot on Team USA.

Snider met the qualifying standard in April at the UW-Platteville Invitational, winning the 5000 meter race with a personal best time of 14:06.76 while competing unattached. Hacker qualified in June at the Wisconsin Track Club’s Meet of Miles, winning the 3000 meter race in 8 minutes, 8.71 seconds.

“We had to work a little harder to make sure Olin had the standard going into the meet,” Snider explained. “We had a 3K out here that he was able to do it at, because we knew that the (U.S. Juniors) race probably wouldn’t be fast enough to get the standard if we didn’t have it already. We knew that if the first few laps were slow, then the standard was kind of going to go out the window and become a pure tactical race, which it ended up being.

“We were just happy not to have to worry about going for the standard and being the ones to push the pace.”

“At that point, we had the race plan and we knew that we could finish with anybody in there.” Hacker said. “We just needed to stick in the race and then be ready to finish really hard. You have to come into a race like that with confidence, no matter if you think you have a chance or not, and just be ready to go.”

The 14:15 standard came and went in the race UW head coach Mick Byrnes described as “a very slow and tactical race.” Snider, hailing from Carmel, Indiana, became the U.S. junior national champion, finishing the 5000 meter race in 15 minutes, 28.46 seconds, while Hacker took third overall in 15:29.05. As the top two finishers among those who already held the world qualifying standard, Hacker and Snider punched their tickets to represent Wisconsin and Team USA on the international stage.

“I had this vision of Zack and I sprinting down the home stretch at nationals and both of us going,” Hacker said. “That kind of sustained me throughout the first part of the summer and to have that come true is just amazing.”

Competing among the best under-20 runners in the world has been months in the making for Snider and Hacker.

“I think Mick and (distance coach) Gavin (Kennedy) had known that this was something they wanted us to do since we got here,” Snider said. “It was something that we started to discuss after I finished the indoor season in February and since then we’ve been building towards it.”

Both runners opted to redshirt the 2016 outdoor track season in preparation, training together over what Snider estimates to be between 60 and 70 miles per week. After competing against one another in national meets in high school and forming a bond as Wisconsin teammates, their friendship provides a boost in practice and competition.

“In high school, I think once we met we got along pretty well,” Snider said. “That was before I knew I was coming here. After I committed, we got closer and throughout the year obviously the entire freshman class has become really good friends. Olin and I, and a couple other guys are actually living together in an apartment next year. But having somebody who I know has got my back and in the race we can work together, I think it’s going to be really cool.

“I think going into USA’s, it was a big confidence booster to know that I had a teammate in the field. Now, especially going into an event like this where we’re not competing for Wisconsin anymore, we’re competing for the United States, having somebody who is actually my teammate is going to be really helpful.”

“I’ll definitely help a lot,” Hacker added. “Training alone is not that much fun, obviously. So just having him to do workouts with, it makes it so much easier to get out and do it.

“In terms of the race, I think it’ll be nice to have him too, because we can kind of talk about our race plan or strategy coming into it.”

Although Hacker raced once before for Team USA, competing at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country International Challenge prior to arriving at UW, both runners see the learning opportunities within the trip and the impact it will have on their track careers.

“Any time you go into a big meet like this, you kind of learn things about yourself because you’re really nervous,” Hacker said. “So it helps keep you calm in later big meets, it helps you perform well on a big stage.”

“Everybody always talks about the experience of big meets,” Snider said, “so a meet like this is going to provide very, very valuable experience, and definitely a learning experience while we’re over there. I think that as we go forward it’s going to kind of help us navigate the pressure we might put on ourselves or on our teammates at the bigger meets like the NCAA cross country championships.”


Published on UWBadgers.com

Edited by AJ Harrison


Ruffalo’s desire to improve is microcosm of the team

Kate Ruffalo, who describes her rowing experience prior to college as “none whatsoever,” truly embodies the walk-on tradition that permeates through Wisconsin athletics. In her second season with the Wisconsin women’s lightweight rowing team, the Oconomowoc native competes in the Badgers’ top boat, rowing with and against some of the best college athletes in the country.

A four-time track and field letterwinner at Kettle Moraine High School, Ruffalo caught the eye of assistant coach Todd Vogt at Student Orientation, Advising, and Registration (SOAR) where she had her first introduction to Wisconsin rowing. Ruffalo had her reservations, but Vogt, Ruffalo’s mother and two high school friends convinced her to attend the annual rowing open house and tryouts.

“We did a Picnic Point run, and I realized that I had been out of running shape for a while when we did that,” Ruffalo laughed. “Then we did a workout on an erg, and thinking back on it now, I’m like, ‘oh my that was really slow’ but Todd said, ‘that was pretty nice, you should come and practice with some of the other recruited freshmen.’”

Ruffalo enjoyed the sport and decided to stick with it, winning the Knecht Cup with the novice four, while taking first at the Head of the Rock and the Eastern Sprints with the novice eight in her first season. With that success under her belt, Ruffalo set her sights on a spot in a varsity boat for her sophomore year.

Checking All the Boxes
At the beginning of Ruffalo’s second year, Wisconsin rowing alum Dusty Mattison took the reins of the lightweight program. While evaluating athletes at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, the head coach looked for a combination of qualities that she wanted for her varsity athletes.

“We look at how they perform throughout the year, especially during winter training which at Wisconsin can last a while and can be mentally challenging. We look at how consistent they are throughout that training. Then when we’re out on the water we’re doing seat racing, looking for who moves the boat the best and who just wants to be a racer. Who wants to go down the course and not worry about what is happening around them, they’re just going to get the job done.

“For Kate, she pretty much checked all those boxes. She performed consistently in the top four to eight individuals on everything. She won seat races consistently, all the way from some practice ones at winter training and then more official ones through spring training. It just showed that she got faster as she went along.”

These traits, along with her even-keeled personality and unmatched work ethic, earned Ruffalo a place in the first varsity eight. While positions in the boat shift from race to race, Ruffalo has remained a constant, which she attributes to her desire to keep improving.

“I really, really like seeing improvements made on myself,” Ruffalo said. “I really like doing the best that I can. Knowing that I tried as hard as I possibly could and went as hard as I possibly could, and if that is the best on the team or if that’s the 18th best on the team, that doesn’t matter to me. I just like making myself as good as I can and I think that attitude and pushing myself every day helps me.”

“She’s a consistent racer,” Mattison explained. “Looking at her from practice to practice, she was in boats that consistently do well. After that, it’s the boat gelling together, but actually right now she’s sitting at stroke seat. She sets a good rhythm, she’s super aggressive which is what this group needs, and she’s up for the challenge.

“I think the thing that strikes you about her when you first meet her is she just has a quiet confidence. She’s not the most vocal on the team, she just comes and does the work, leaves, and does her schoolwork, which is what you hope for in your athletes. She is a super hard worker. I know her family talks a lot about just getting it done, and if it’s not how you want it, work harder to get there.”

This spring, Ruffalo and the first varsity eight have grabbed a trio of third-place finishes at the Knecht Cup, the Charles River Lightweight Invitational and the Eastern Sprints. Nearly a month since their last competition, the lightweights are hoping to secure the program’s sixth Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championship title when they race this weekend, June 4-5 in West Windsor, New Jersey.

“Personally my goal is to get better each day, and I think that’s pretty much the goal of everyone that is still here. Ultimately, do the best that we can do. I know that we have a lot of speed in us and I know that we all want it really bad. I think we could do some really, really good things.”

A Simple Plan
Ruffalo did not arrive on campus predicting her athletic success, nor the close bond she formed with her teammates. However, the decision to try out something new has shaped her college experience and her outlook on the future. A psychology major, Ruffalo says she doesn’t have a plan laid out when it comes to a possible career.

“At this point, I really don’t know. I really don’t have a specific, engrained plan. See where it takes me I guess.”

The same go-with-the-flow mentality applies for post-collegiate rowing.

“I don’t really know where it goes, I really don’t know the sport that well yet,” Ruffalo said. “But I think that would be really cool to see what I can do. Why not?”

As for the rest of her Wisconsin rowing career, Ruffalo knows exactly what she wants to happen.

“Win. I want to win.”


Published on UWBadgers.com and in Varsity Magazine

Edited by Paul Capobianco