Team-first Badgers take third at Big Ten championships


Connor, Darling, Brill

May 12, 2013

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Anyone who questions the idea of track and field being a team sport need only look at Sunday's 5000 meters final at the 2013 Big Ten Outdoor Championships for proof otherwise.

The teamwork that went into that race did little to change the result of the team standings on the scoreboard, but it did show what has made the Badgers a perennial power in the league -- a commitment to a team-first approach.

Wisconsin had no answer for No. 11 Nebraska on the meet's final day, as the Huskers posted an impressive tally of 131.5 points to win their first-ever Big Ten title. UW piled up 86.5 points to finish third behind the Huskers and runner-up Minnesota (93 points).

"It's pretty clear that no one was catching Nebraska today," UW head coach Ed Nuttycombe said. "They had a phenomenal meet and came through in a big way today. As far as we're concerned, I was pretty pleased with what we were able to do.

"We knew it was going to be an uphill battle and I thought our guys responded to the challenge."

Any chance for No. 10-ranked Wisconsin to defend its 2012 conference crown had already gone out the window when a quartet of Badgers toed the line for the 5000. That didn't stop the Badgers from going all out in an attempt to get one of their own out front.

Alex Brill and Maverick Darling had already done what they'd come to Columbus to accomplish, with Brill winning the Big Ten steeplechase title and Darling claiming the 10,000 meters crown. Still, the pair of champions didn't hesitate to do their part for teammate Reed Connor.

Brill paced the race from the gun and eventually ceded control to Darling, who recovered remarkably after being tripped in the race's first 100 meters and quickly passed the entire field to take his spot at the front.

Together, the duo helped control the race for Connor, who sought not only to repeat the 5000 title he won as a freshman in 2010 but to post a time that would qualify him for the upcoming NCAA preliminary round. After watching his teammates drop off, Connor went on to drop the field in his wake.

In the end, there was no shaking Andrew Bayer, the Indiana senior that was coming back from an impressive win in the 1500 meters earlier in the afternoon. Bayer sat on Connor's shoulder, benefitting from the windbreak Connor provided from the blustery conditions that made the leader work that much harder.

Connor made a move with 100 meters to go, but Bayer covered it and was able to hold on to take the win in 13:54.71. Connor crossed in 13:54.90, securing a mark that will secure him a spot in the NCAA prelims.

Danny Block's effort to walk away from the Big Ten outdoor championships with a gold medal for the second-consecutive year nearly came to fruition, but the junior was forced to settle for silver in the shot put.

His initial effort was enough to place him second heading into the three-throw final, but Block eventually slipped back to fourth.

When he unleashed a throw of 63 feet, 4 1/4 inches, however, Block vaulted himself to the top of the standings and appeared poised to sweep the Big Ten's shot put titles (he also won indoors in February).

Nebraska's Chad Wright had other ideas. Wright unloaded a personal-best heave of 63-7 1/2 on his sixth and final attempt of the competition, edging past Block for the top spot on the podium.

The Badgers got a pair of scorers in the 1500 meters, led by a gritty effort that earned senior Rob Finnerty a fourth-place finish in 3:48.53. When the leaders pushed the pace early, Finnerty responded and was in position to battle until Indiana's Andrew Bayer and Penn State's Robby Creese made a move that left a big gap back to third. Bayer, the defending NCAA champion, won in 3:44.24, with Ceese second in 3:45.39.

UW sophomore Alex Hatz, who entered with the Big Ten's top time this season and ranks No. 3 nationally, finished sixth in 3:49.50.

Sophomore Austin Mudd ran to a fourth-place finish in the 800 meters, turning in a time of 1:51.25 that kept him at the front of a tightly-packed second wave of runners in the race. A trio of seniors broke away and made it a three-man battle for the title, with Harun Abda of Minnesota crossing first in 1:48.64, Penn State's Casimir Loxom second in 1:48.67 and another Gopher, Travis Burkstrand, third in 1:49.74.

Senior Grant Bughman capped his Big Ten career with perhaps his best individual performance, taking fifth in the 400 hurdles. Running out of Lane 9, Bughman ran tough as the field made up the stagger on him and battled down the homestretch to hold on to his top-five position, clocking in at 52.48.

Garret Payne was the Badgers' biggest workhorse, scoring points with a fifth-place finish in the 400 meters and providing legs of both UW's 4x100 and 4x400 relays.

Payne hit the line in 47.01 in the 400, securing fifth for the second-consecutive season.

The 4x100 quartet of Dezmen Southward, Matt Kerswill, Babatunde Awosika and Payne came home eighth in 41.47, scoring a team point for the Badgers thanks in large part to an outstanding anchor carry by Payne.

In the 4x400, Awosika led off and passed to Drew Simmons, with Payne following on the third leg and Bughman providing the anchor. The Badgers won their heat in 3:13.28, a time that was good enough to earn fifth overall.

The Badgers' attention shifts to individual pursuits in two weeks when they head to Austin, Texas, for the 2013 NCAA West Preliminary Round. Qualifiers for the event, which sets the field for June's NCAA outdoor championships, will be announced Monday.

"There's a lot to be excited about for a number of guys moving forward," Nuttycombe said. "We have some experienced athletes that have set themselves up to succeed individually over the next few weeks as we build toward the NCAA championships and the U.S. championships."

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