LA CROSSE, Wis. -- The host institution and its intrastate rivals represent a formidable ensemble as the 2013 Division III Men’s Outdoor Track and Field Championships opens this week at the Veterans Memorial Field Sports Complex.

Specifically, the three-day competition -- Thursday through Saturday -- takes place at Roger Harring Stadium. Individuals will vie for national titles in each event while teams will pursue the overall title.

The Division III women's championships are being staged simultaneously at the same venue, and the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse is hosting both meets.

On the men’s side, the UW-La Crosse Eagles compete from a position of strength. They’re the top-ranked team by the United States Track and Field Cross Country Coaches Association, and one of four Wisconsin schools -- all from the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Association -- to be ranked in the current top five.

No. 2 Wisconsin-Oshkosh, No. 3 Wisconsin-Eau Claire and No. 5 Wisconsin-Whitewater round out the rest of the “Cheesehead” contingent in the top five. No. 4 Whitworth, from Spokane, Wash., is the exception.

A look at last year’s NCAA championship results extends the regional influence; four of the top-six teams in the final standings were from Wisconsin. McMurray University, from Abilene, Texas, is the defending national champion men’s team.

UW-La Crosse is the defending runner-up. Wisconsin-Stout finished third, Wisconsin-Oshkosh finished fourth and Wisconsin-Eau Claire was sixth. North Central College, from Napierville, Ill., finished fourth last year.

The McMurray men may have significant work to do to defend its 2012 team title. The War Hawks finished second at their conference meet -- the National Christian College Athletic Association championships three weeks ago — and aren’t ranked in the top 25 as this week’s NCAA meet begins.

Among 2013 eligible competitors, seven individuals and one relay team return to defend 2012 titles. In the track events, Oneonto State senior Sean Bernstein will defend in the 200-meter dash. He’s ranked second behind Wisconsin-Eau Claire sophomore Thurgood Dennis.

Wisconsin-Stevens Point junior Dan Sullivan will defend in the 1,500 meters. He’s currently ranked No. 1.

Rowan University’s 4x400 relay team of seniors Josh McGriff, Taylor Purdue, Ali Ejaz and Demetrius Rooks return to defend their title, but are ranked seventh. Expect thick competition in this event, as last year’s second, third, fourth and fifth-place NCAA finishers also return. Plus, the 4x400 relay team from Wisconsin-Eau Claire --  junior Jake Dennis-Oehling, sophomore Cody Prince, senior Marty Richardson and Dennis -- finished fifth in the 2012 NCAA meet and currently is ranked No. 1.

Five athletes will attempt to win back-to-back championships in field events: Carthage College junior Trevar James in the high jump, UW-La Crosse senior Isaac Vazquez in the long jump, Whitworth senior Carter Comito in the discus, UW-Oshkosh senior Pete Delzer in the hammer and Rutgers-Camden senior Tim Vaniew in the javelin.

James is ranked second in the high jump behind UMass-Boston sophomore Carl Joseph.

UW-Eau Claire's Thurgood-Dennis
UW-Eau Claire Athletics

Vazquez could make noise in multiple jump events. He’s also ranked second in the triple jump and finished second in that event at last year’s NCAA championships.

Both Comito and Vaniew are ranked No. 1 in their events. Delzer is ranked No. 9 in the hammer.

In other events, watch out for Middlebury senior Jack Davies, the top-ranked competitor in the men’s steeplechase. He was the NCAA runner-up last year.

UW-Eau Claire’s Dennis could be a threat in multiple track events. Aside from the 200-meter dash, he’s ranked No. 1 in the 100 meters, No. 2 in the 400 meters and anchors the Blugolds’ top-ranked 4x400 relay team.

Other athletes currently ranked No. 1 in their events hold the favorite’s status entering this week’s championships.

Whittier freshman German Fabela is top-ranked in the 400 meters, Wheaton (Ill.) senior Luke Vance is top-ranked in the 800 meters, Central sophomore Eli Horton is top-ranked in the 5,000 meters and Franciscan senior William Jones is top-ranked in the 10,000 meters (he finished 15th a year ago).

In hurdles, Coast Guard Academy junior Adam Scalesse is top-ranked in the 110-meter hurdles (he finished eighth a year ago). Mount Union sophomore Tyler Mettille is top-ranked in the 400 hurdles.

Whittier College’s quartet of senior Kevin Curbelo, senior Kimble Tillman, sophomore Andres Vega and Fabela are top-ranked in the 4x100 relay. Central sophomore Eric Larson is top-ranked in the decathlon (he finished fifth a year ago).

In field events, North Central (Ill.) senior Josh Winder is top-ranked in the pole vault after finishing third in last year’s NCAA meet. UW-White Water senior Marcus Smith is top-ranked in the triple jump after finishing seventh a year ago. Bates senior David Pless is top-ranked in the shot put (he finished fourth a year ago), and Defiance senior Tom Postema is top-ranked in the hammer (he finished 18th a year ago).