May 18, 2014
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WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind.-- Stop them if you've heard this one before.
Wisconsin's hopes for a championship came down to the trio of Mohammed Ahmed, Reed Connor and Malachy Schrobilgen in the 5000 meters.
If the setup sounds familiar, so will the punch line, although no one else in the Big Ten was laughing Sunday. That's because, once again, there was no stopping the Badgers' terrific trio.
Just as they did indoors, Ahmed, Connor and Schrobilgen went 1-2-3 in the 5000 meters to clinch a Big Ten championship for the Badgers in the penultimate event of the conference meet.
The triumphant trio swept the podium at the 2014 Big Ten Outdoor Championships to vault the No. 14-ranked Wisconsin men's track and field team to its 44th conference title on Sunday at Rankin Track and Field.
Combined with their indoor crown, the win marked the 12th time in program history the Badgers have swept both Big Ten track titles in the same season, and the first time since 2007. The Badgers have won 19 Big Ten track titles since 2000, including four of the past five since winning the outdoor crown in Madison in 2012.
"When you look at the history of the last 20 years, especially under Coach (Ed) Nuttycombe, it just shows that we take this business of track and field seriously," Wisconsin Director of Cross Country and Track & Field Mick Byrne said. "I think over the years because of our success in cross country and our distance guys, the track program often gets overlooked. History says we are a pretty good track and field program and the number of conference titles speaks to that."
The trio of Ahmed, Connor and Schrobilgen was joined by eighth-place finisher Michael Van Voorhis -- who also took third behind Connor and Ahmed in a 1-2-3 sweep of Friday's 10,000 meters - to give UW a whopping 25 points in the 5000 meters. The Badgers finished the three-day championship with 121 points. Illinois, which started the day in last place, finished second with 109 points while Nebraska was third with 106.
Ahmed, who also won the 5000 meters indoors this year, claimed his fourth Big Ten track title by crossing the line in 14 minutes, 9.53 seconds.
"I just let the race develop," Ahmed said. "I took the lead and I thought it was going to be 65 seconds for the first lap, and it was 68, and I thought I didn't want to push it. I wanted to wait three or four laps to take the lead and dictate the pace from there, and I wanted to hold. Every time a guy came on my shoulder I wouldn't make a surge and that was my strategy.
"I was excited when I looked back with 50 meters to go and just saw my teammates and I was ecstatic. I was screaming on the top of my lungs."
"Mo is a world-class athlete and you hope that he is going to be able to take control of a race like that," Byrne said. "He is still coming off of a 10,000 meters in pretty bad conditions on Friday night. We knew that these guys relish being put in that role. Do they get nervous? Yeah. But they get pumped up and they enjoy carrying the team like that.
"If you are against it and backed in a corner, you always know that Reed and Mo will come out of it."
Behind Ahmed was Connor, who finished in 14:09.96, while Schrobilgen placed third in 14:10.50 to complete the sweep. Van Voorhis was eighth in 14:12.84 as the quartet put the Badgers over the top in strikingly similar fashion to February's indoor conference meet.
"It was a little different, this one was big time racing and all of us came through for (the team)," Ahmed said. "We proved that we could do this. For all of these years people thought we had no kick, people thought we liked to just push the pace. To go out like that, it's unbelievable. I am so excited to get the team title as that's the most important thing.
"To go 1-2-3 three times in the last few months is awesome."
Schrobilgen and Van Voorhis both set lifetime bests in the event to help the Badgers distance themselves from the competition. It also marked the second time this year that Schrobilgen, the Big Ten cross country champion, finished third in the 5000 meters at a Big Ten meet.
"The great thing for the future is that Malachy has learned his trade with these guys," Byrne said. "He's been around them, and has learned what it takes to be a Badger. He knows the expectations. He's come through with flying colors, third indoors and third outdoors."
The Badgers captured close to half of their points in the long distance races, including a combined 49 from Ahmed, Connor, Schrobilgen and Van Voorhis in the 5000 and 10,000. The Badgers also earned podium finishes in both the 800 and 1500 meters.
Alex Hatz finished third in the 1500 in 3:46.08, as the junior took a lead heading into the bell lap but saw Indiana's Rorey Hunter win the race with a strong kick at the end to hold off Hatz and Penn State's Brandon Kidder.
Austin Mudd also finished third in the 800 in 1:49.55, while freshman Carl Hirsch was sixth in the event in 1:51.53. Mudd battled Indiana freshman Tre'tez Kinnaird for the lead in the first lap before Joe McAsey of Illinois surged to the lead and never looked back en route to an event win for the Fighting Illini.
Danny Block, who's battled a nagging foot injury all year, placed sixth in the shot put with a throw of 61 feet, 1/4 inch to earn the Cardinal and White three huge points.
"He's throwing off of one leg," Byrne said. "He's been struggling all year, but this is his last go-around. He understands what it means to be Badger Tough. In each discipline, the guys feed off each other.
"Danny knows what Mo and Reed are going through, and he's going to do everything he can to contribute."
UW's 4x400 relay team of Babatunde Awosika, Ryan Davis, Garret Payne and Aaron Thompson was fifth in 3:09.64. The 4x100 relay squad of James Stecker, Awosika, Payne and Zach Ziemek, who claimed the Big Ten decathlon title on Saturday, finished seventh with a time of 40.66.
Awosika and Davis also scored in the 400 meters, as Awosika was sixth in a PR time of 47.12, while Davis was eighth in 47.38.
"If you look across the board, event by event, we can hold our own with any conference," Byrne said of the Big Ten. "The SEC gets a lot of attention, but across the board in all events, I can guarantee you that the Big Ten would come out on top. The days of accumulating 150, 200 points are gone as the other teams are so much stronger.
"No one is going to hand Wisconsin a conference title, so for us to win a title against this type of competition is special."
The Badgers will compete in the NCAA West Preliminary Round in Fayetteville, Arkansas, May 29-31.