Back on top: Gutsy Badgers rally for Big Ten title


ON WISCONSIN
<b>Senior Kyle Jefferson competed in a total of seven races over the weekend, none more important than the 4x400 relay.</b>

ON WISCONSIN
Senior Kyle Jefferson competed in a total of seven races over the weekend, none more important than the 4x400 relay.
ON WISCONSIN

May 13, 2012

Championship Central  |  Results  |  Photo Gallery

BY BRANDON HARRISON
UW Athletic Communications 

MADISON, Wis. -- There will no longer be an empty shelf on the wall in Ed Nuttycombe’s office.

Nuttycombe walked out of the Dan McClimon Memorial Track on Sunday carrying the trophy that will soon occupy the blank spot on his wall, the reward for an outstanding team effort that saw the Wisconsin men battle to their first Big Ten outdoor championship since 2007.

It was all thanks to a late surge that saw UW pile up points in the meet’s final three scored events. Mohammed Ahmed toppled the Big Ten meet record to win the 5000 meters. Senior Derek Steinbach continued his tremendous weekend with a runner-up finish in the javelin.

And then there was Kyle Jefferson, whose gutsy effort in the 4x400 relay -- the day’s final event -- secured the crown for the Badgers.

“I had to dig deep,” Jefferson said. “My teammates are my energy. They fought for me and I wanted to fight for them.

"I called my mother this morning and told her happy Mother’s Day and told her we'd be champions today.

“And we were."

For the second time in 10 years, the Badgers left their home track as Big Ten champions after rallying for the win over the meet’s final events.

Tallying 121 team points over the three-day event, the Badgers edged out the 115.5 points from runner-up Nebraska and Indiana’s third-place total of 115 points, to win one of the tightest conference title races in recent memory.

Speaking to the depth of the competition, UW’s winning score was the lowest for an outdoor conference champion since the Big Ten’s current scoring tables were implemented in 1999.

Of 42 total events contested in men’s and women’s competition over the course of three days, nine meet records and 18 facility records fell.

"Undoubtedly in my book -- and I've been here a few years -- the best meet in Big Ten history, and I’m not saying that because we won,” said Nuttycombe, who is in his 29th season at Wisconsin.

Wisconsin also rallied to a victory in 2002, the last time the McClimon track hosted the Big Ten meet.

“Déjà vu all over again,” Nuttycombe said of the comparisons to that 2002 title run. “An amazing finish.”

Before securing their title, the Badgers found themselves down 1 1/2 points to Nebraska, with just the 4x400 relay remaining.

Wisconsin needed determination and grit in order to pull out the title.

Enter Jefferson.

Having already endured a total of six races over the course of the championships -- including finals in the 4x100 relay, 200 meters and 400 meters in the previous three hours -- the senior was tired, spent and worn.

But not done.

As the relay team prepared to race in the final event of the championships, there was concern from coaches and even teammates as to what Jefferson had left in the tank after such a body of work.

Grant Bughman was called in, told by assistant coach Mark Guthrie that he’d replace Jefferson in the relay. Bughma sprinted across the infield, pulling on his uniform as he ran toward his teammates and drawing a huge round of applause from the crowd.

“He looked worn out and exhausted,” Bughman said of Jefferson. “But, he looked at me and asked, ‘What are you doing? I’m running this race.’”

The decision was made. The relay team of Garret Payne, Brady Hammon, Jefferson and Drew Simmons would run, and run they did.

Payne opened up the relay for UW, and knowing very well what was on the line, bolted out of the blocks like he never had before.

“I knew I had Nebraska to the outside of me,” Payne said. “That’s the team we had to beat, so I knew I had to make up some stagger on them.”

Payne passed the baton to Hammon, a senior who had enough motivation of his own running for the final time running on his home track.

But, having talked with Jefferson before the race, he had a feeling something special was about to happen.

“I was just thinking about getting it around to Kyle,” Hammon said. “I walked down with him and he didn't look so good.

“I heard he was going to run and I said, 'He's either going to run fast or he's going to die trying.'

“He ran really fast.”

Hammon passed off the baton, Jefferson took off, and the 3,294 people in attendance -- the majority of them Wisconsin fans -- rose to their feet, began chanting and cheered on the home team.

Jefferson ran a 45.9-second split for his 400-meter carry, something even Nuttycombe couldn’t explain after already witnessing Jefferson score points for UW in three events earlier in the afternoon.

“That 400 meters/200 meters double is no joke,” Nuttycombe said. “Throw on top of it both relays and that’s a man’s work this weekend.

“Where he found that gear on that curve, I’ll never know. It was from deep down inside, that’s for sure.”

Anchored by Simmons, the group of Badgers clocked in with a school-record time of 3 minutes, 5.27 seconds to finish second and secure the team’s 13th outdoor title under Nuttycombe, who has claimed 25 Big Ten crowns in all.

As has been the case with all 25, Nuttycombe said it was the team’s effort that ultimately set up the finish and opportunity to win a title.

“Every seventh and eighth place, those ones and twos (points) add up to make a difference,” he said.

After making a difference by contributing five team points with his fourth-place finish in the decathlon on Saturday, Steinbach showed up again in a big way in the javelin on Sunday.

Recording a personal-best throw of 217 feet, Steinbach finished second in the javelin and earned eight key points for UW in one of the final events of the day.

As the silver medal was being hung around the senior’s neck, teammate Mohammed Ahmed was running past on the track, competing in the 5000 meters and doing his part to earn a top finish.

“I got to get this one for my team,” Ahmed said he told himself before racing. “I got to go out there and try to put on a show for [the home crowd].

“I want it.”

He got it, taking the win in the event with a Big Ten meet record time of 13:41.06, beating out Minnesota’s Hassan Mead and securing the maximum score of 10 team points.

Elliot Krause and Maverick Darling also performed strongly, as Krause finished fifth in 13:54.86 and Darling sixth with his time of 13:58.92 to bring the total to 17 points earned for their team.

As the 4x100 team finished in seventh place and earned two team points earlier in the day, relay leg Patrick Plank suffered an injury and faced the choice of sitting out the 400-meter hurdles or doing his best to fight through.

With the title race so tight, the senior took to the track and made his way over each barrier, securing a team point with an eighth-place finish.

In the end, those contributions added up to enough to put the Badgers back on top of the Big Ten.

“We ended up on a high note,” Jefferson said. “Winning a championship is a great feeling that you can’t take away from us.”

ON WISCONSIN
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