UW Health Sports Medicine 

Lucas at Large: 10 years later, comeback still 'awesome'

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BigTenOut_5000_Four_sm.jpgOn the 10th-anniversary of Wisconsin's dramatic, come-from-behind Big Ten men's outdoor track and field championship in Madison, coach Ed Nuttycombe had a snap shot in mind - "I still remember it vividly" he said - that matched a cherished photograph on his office desk at Kellner Hall.

Pictured are Isaiah Festa, Matt Tegenkamp, Josh Spiker and Nick Winkel following the 5,000 meters, the second-to-last track event on the final day of the meet. Because the Badgers trailed first-place Minnesota by 24 points going into the 5K, they almost didn't get a chance to run the race; the story within the story.

"It was very memorable," Nuttycombe said.

It was one of his most memorable Big Ten titles, he confided.

That covers a lot of ground (28 years) and championships (24).

But the final round didn't start out very memorable in the 2002 meet.

The Badgers had an early lead in the 400 relay but had to settle for third after a botched exchange. In the very next event - the 1,500 meters - Spiker was running third behind Michigan's Alan Webb and Indiana's John Jefferson when he stumbled and fell about 30 meters from the finish line. He ended up seventh.

Given this backdrop, Wisconsin looked like a long shot to catch the Gophers, although the Badgers had shown their resiliency the year before. In the 2001 Big Ten outdoor meet in Bloomington, Ind., they rallied past Ohio State, 135-117.5, for the team crown despite winning just two individual titles.

T.J. Nelson won the 110-meter hurdles and automatically qualified for nationals by running the third fastest time (13.49 seconds) in the country, while Festa outdistanced Ohio State's Rob Myers down the stretch to win the 1,500 meters. Festa also took a second and Jason Vanderhoof a third in the 5,000.

Clinching the overall title - the UW's fifth outdoors in seven years - on the strength of Festa and Vanderhoof combining for 14 points in a clutch situation, Nuttycombe said afterward, "Our 5,000- meter guys ran with a lot of heart."

Remember those words because they would resonate again in the very same event at the 2002 Big Ten meet on the McClimon Track; the last time that the UW played host to the outdoor track and field championships in Madison.

All the Badgers needed was a spark, according to Nuttycombe, to help reverse the momentum generated by Minnesota, which had been the only league program outside of Wisconsin to win outdoor titles since 1995. (The Badgers, in fact, were trying to pull off their second three-peat over an eight-year span.)

In order to put some pressure on the Gophers, the 1998 and 1999 team champion, someone had to "step up" and that's exactly what happened with Jon Mungen winning the 110 high hurdles and B.J. Tucker taking second in the 100. Len Herring also produced some valuable points with a second in the triple jump.

The real catalyst, though, was freshman Dan Murray who came out of the pack - fourth place - over the final 200 meters to win the 800. Murray not only set a track record (1:48.2), but posted a provisional NCAA qualifying mark. In the process, he seemed to inspire his teammates.

But the math still didn't add up.

Minnesota had the team lead - 135-110.5 - over Wisconsin.

Going into the 5,000-meters, Nuttycombe admitted, "We considered pulling some of the better guys out of the race to save their legs for nationals. We didn't want to extend them if there was no need to, and we told them that."

Nuttycombe and Jerry Schumacher, then the cross country and distance coach, merely attempted to paint a realistic picture for their 5K racers.

"After we told them what we were considering," Nuttycombe said, "they go, 'No way. We're not going to let you do that.'"

What followed was another reality check from Nuttycombe.

"Guys, we've got to do almost the impossible (to catch Minnesota)."

They responded by asking, "What do we need to do?"

Nuttycombe's answer?

"We need to go one, two, three, four in the 5,000."

Their response?

"Coach, we're going to do it."

Festa and Tegenkamp went out and finished one-two in the 5,000, while Spiker was fourth and Winkel was fifth. That was close enough to fulfilling Nuttycombe's challenge, and good enough to pick up 27 points in the event.

Then it came down to the final event, the 4 x 400-meter relay. Minnesota was the top seed and Nuttycombe instructed his runners, "If you can't win, you can't allow more than one team between us and them (the Gophs)."

Actually, the Badgers could have finished lower than third and still won the meet but Nuttycombe was determined to pull out all stops in motivating his relay team: Jvontai Hanserd, Ricardo Rodriguez, Gustin Smith and Jabari Pride.

It worked.

"We chased Minnesota around the track," Nuttycombe recounted fondly.

The Badgers finished second in the relay, and won the outdoor title.

"It was very memorable, not only for winning," Nuttycombe said.

But it was memorable, he observed, for not throwing in the towel on the 5,000 meters; memorable for not underestimating Festa, Tegenkamp, Spiker and Winkel; memorable for not denying them an opportunity to race.

Nuttycombe is reminded of that moment every day. "There's that picture right on my desk - one of my favorite pictures - of those four guys with their arms around each other right after the finish," he said. "That was awesome."

A 10-year anniversary worth celebrating this weekend in Madison.

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