Feb. 23, 2013
• Day 1 Results
GENEVA, Ohio -- It was getting to the point that close didn’t count much to Maverick Darling.
Finishing second in a league as deep and talented as the Big Ten has become in the distance events is an accomplishment worth celebrating. At least the first time.
But five times? For someone of the caliber and competitiveness of Darling, frustration came to replace celebration.
That all went out the window Friday, when Darling went by everyone in a phenomenal run to claim his first individual conference title with a win in the 3000 meters at the 2013 Big Ten Indoor Championships.
It was a performance second to none. In more ways than one.
Five times a runner-up in Big Ten competition over the course of his career, Darling finally came out on top after laying down a blistering final lap en route to a record-setting run of 7 minutes, 50.97 seconds. The time broke Darling’s own track record at the SPIRE Institute and shattered the Big Ten meet record previously held by Badgers legend Chris Solinsky.
Most important, though, was the fact that the effort put Darling atop the awards stand.
“It definitely gets tiring after a while, but I knew I had the confidence to come in here and do this,” Darling said. “I’m pretty honored to be standing up there, holding the medal for this conference, because there are a lot of good runners.”
His teammate, junior Mohammed Ahmed, clocked in at 7:55.13 to take sixth in the blistering race. The top five finishers all came in under Solinsky’s meet record, and the top seven each broke eight minutes to secure a scoring position.
The race’s fast clip helped it play out well for the Badgers, who used sophomore Michael Van Voorhis to help set the pace early before handing the reins to Ahmed and, eventually, Darling.
“We definitely wanted to string it out,” Darling said. “We were hoping to it a little bit differently and kind of create a gap, but that didn’t happen. The thing is we just didn’t panic.
“That’s one thing that’s taught over and over again our program -- don’t panic when things go bad. I just kept the focus and everyone did their job.”
Darling had finished second three times at Big Ten track meets, including twice in the indoor 3000 meters. As a sophomore, he was runner-up in both the 3000 and 5000 meters at the 2011 Big Ten Indoor Championships. Darling also took second at the Big Ten cross country championship in each of his last two seasons.
It’s not like Darling didn’t know how to win -- he has claimed four Big Ten cross country titles, an NCAA cross country championship and a Big Ten outdoor crown as part of victorious Badgers teams. Whatever the difference was individually on Friday, though, Darling was thrilled that his moment had come.
“I’ve run well here before, so maybe it was a little bit of luck on this track,” he said. “It feels great.”
Replicating that feeling Saturday quickly became Darling’s primary focus. He and Ahmed will double back to compete in the 5000 meters, joining teammates Elliot Krause and Brian Leung in what will be a critical race for UW’s hopes of staying in the team title hunt.
The Badgers carry a lead into the final day of competition, as UW scored 39 points Friday to put a gap on second-place Nebraska (29.67 points).
“It’s definitely an accomplishment to get one today and hopefully go after one tomorrow,” Darling said. “So it put a smile on my face, but after this cool down, I’ll forget about it and think about tomorrow.”
Block comes up big
While Darling was busy bucking a trend on the track, junior Danny Block was doing his best to continue one on the infield.
Block did just that, building on his growing reputation as one of the league’s top throwers by claiming the Big Ten shot put title. The meet’s No. 1 seed lived up to his ranking by unloading a personal-best throw of 63 feet, 7 3/4 inches to claim his second conference crown in as many meets.
The big toss came on Block’s first throw of the final round, topping the previous best mark he established exactly a week earlier by 2 1/4 inches -- and extending his own school record in the process.
He topped runner-up Chad Wright of Nebraska by just shy of two feet and added a second gold medal to go along with the one he earned for winning the discus outdoors last season.
“I said before the meet that I thought I put too much pressure on myself because I didn’t want to be the No. 1 guy,” Block said. “But when you live up to it, it’s great.
“More risk, more reward, I guess.”
While his fourth throw was the winner, it was Block’s first attempt – a mark of 62-3 3/4 – that set the tone.
“For me, a big throw on that first one takes the nerves away,” he said. “If I foul it, it compounds the nervousness and puts me in sort of a bad spot.
“It felt good to get one on the first throw.”
Last year, Block was the first man out of the NCAA championships, missing the cut by a single centimeter and earning the distinction of having the best mark to ever not qualify for the NCAA meet.
There will be no such close call this year, as Block has cemented a spot in Fayetteville, Ark., two weeks from now.
“When you win something like this, the NCAAs are kind of a cherry on top,” Block said. “I’m looking forward to just going and seeing what I can do.”
Survive and advance
The Badgers’ cause was buoyed by getting athletes through Friday’s preliminary rounds and into Saturday’s finals in three key events.
In the 600 meters, junior Tyler Woloszyk used a fantastic close to win his heat in a personal-best time of 1:17.93 and automatically qualify for the final. The performance gave Woloszyk the sixth-fastest time in school history and the fifth fastest in the Big Ten this season.
Sophomore Austin Mudd also punched his ticket to the 800 meters final with a run of 1:50.50, while sophomore Alex Hatz clocked in at 4:05.19 to advance in the mile.
In addition, Hatz and Mudd joined forces with Zach Mellon and Drew Simmons to earn a podium finish in the distance medley relay. The quartet clocked in at 9:40.18 to claim second and earn valuable points for the Badgers.
Junior Japheth Cato scored a second-place finish of his own by unleashing a massive personal-best jump of 25 feet, 9 3/4 inches in the long jump. The performance came as Cato was competing concurrently in the long jump and pole vault at opposite ends of the SPIRE Institute facility.
It was all part of a busy day for Cato, who also positioned himself well for a strong final day in the heptathlon. Although he stands in second place, Cato’s first-day total of 3,294 points is the second-highest four-event total of his career and positions him for a potential 6,000-point finish.
Cato is attempting to become just the second three-time heptathlon champion in Big Ten history. He would join Minnesota’s Ben Jensen, who won the event from 1997-99.
Sophomore teammate Zach Ziemek had a strong day of his own in the heptathlon, totaling 3,212 points to stand in third place through four events. Ziemek, on pace to break his personal-best score of 5,598 points, set personal bests in the shot put (43-0 1/4) and 60 meters (7.04) and tied a personal best in the high jump (6-9).
The heptathlon competition continues tomorrow at 9 a.m. (CT) with the 60 hurdles followed by the pole vault and 1000 meters.