Second chances: Ahmed, Block shine to earn NCAA bids


Ahmed

May 31, 2014

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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark.-- Wisconsin seniors Mohammed Ahmed and Danny Block showed their toughness on Saturday at the NCAA West Preliminary Round, as both fought through adversity to advance to the NCAA outdoor championships.

Ahmed, fresh off of advancing in 10,000 meters on Thursday, finished fourth in his heat of the 5000 meters to move on to the NCAA meet in a second event.

"I came here to make it both the 5000 and 10,000 meters," Ahmed said. "It was a tough task at hand, but luckily the weather here was better than it was at Big Tens, which helped me feel fresh coming out of the 10,000 meters."

The senior clocked a time of 14 minutes, 13.20 seconds in the first heat of the event. The top five finishers from each of the two sections automatically advanced, along a pair of at-large spots for with the next two fastest performers. 

Ahmed knew that he had to finish in the top five to leave nothing to chance.

"I wanted to be on the top five in my heat," Ahmed said. "I knew that my heat wasn't going to be like the second heat, which went a lot faster. I just needed to be in that top five, and with 100 meters to go, I saw I was in the top four and saw no one coming, which was a great feeling."

"He had a great weekend in Arkansas advancing in both events," Wisconsin director of track and field and cross country Mick Byrne said of Ahmed. "He looked relaxed in both of his races and he is excited about racing in Eugene."

After missing the cut by one spot in the shot put on Thursday with a 13th-place showing, Block came back on Saturday to compete in the discus. The UW senior has battled an injury all season, and it almost got the best of him before the discus competition.

"In warmups, my foot started acting up on me and I almost called it quits as I could feel it swell up in my shoes," Block admitted. "I decided to do the first three throws to see how they went, and I ended up catching one and moving onto the NCAAs."

Block unleashed a heave of 186 feet, 10 inches on his second throw, the competition's 10th-best mark, to propel him to Eugene. A second-team All-American in the discus in 2012, Block knew there was pressure on him Saturday after narrowly missing the cut in the shot put.

"It put a lot more pressure on me after my shot put finish," Block said. "I was hoping to get in the shot put so I could relax more in the discus. It's more of a relaxing event because if you tense up you are done. That's what makes regionals so difficult."

"Danny has battled an injury all season and he was disappointed to not advance in the shot put," Byrne said. "Coming out today and advancing to Eugene in the discus shows what a great competitor he is. He wanted to end his collegiate career in Eugene and it's awesome he will get there."

It marks the third straight season Block has advanced to the NCAA outdoor championships, as the Hanover Park, Illinois, native competed in the discus in 2012 before throwing the shot put at the national meet last season.

The throw was short of his season-best heave of 191-3, but Block is looking forward to extending his Wisconsin career.

"Today's throw wasn't up to my standards," Block said "But it was enough to get through and I feel like I can really build on this performance."

The 2014 Big Ten champion in the 10,000 meters, senior Reed Connor saw his Wisconsin collegiate career end at the preliminary round after finishing eighth in the first heat of the 5000 meters in 14:29.34. Connor led early on, but once the race strung out, he fell towards the middle of the pack.

"His double in the 5000 and 10,000 meters at the Big Ten meet obviously took more out of him than we thought," Byrne admitted. "He just didn't have his legs under him tonight."

A two-time first-team All-American in track, Connor helped UW win three Big Ten track titles, four Big Ten cross country titles and the 2011 NCAA cross country championship. 

"Reed has done so much for our program over the past five years and it's tough seeing his Badger career end here in Arkansas," Byrne said. "We will miss his energy, passion, and pride in wearing the Wisconsin colors."

Austin Mudd and Alex Hatz were unable to advance in the 1500 meters. Hatz had the event's best time to not advance, as the junior was eighth in his heat in 3:42.42. 

Mudd finished seventh in his heat, crossing the line in 3:46.49.

The top five finishers from each section advanced, along with the next two best overall times.

The Badgers' 4x400 relay team of Garret Payne, Babatunde Awosika, Ryan Davis and Tyler Woloszyk placed 17th in a season-best time of 3:09.20.

Alex Thompson also competed in the discus, and the junior finished 23rd with a toss of 176-6.

UW will send five athletes to compete in six events at Hayward Field June 11-14, as Ahmed will run in both the 5000 and 10,000 meters, Block will compete in the shot put, Alex Brill in the steeplechase, Michael Lihrman in the hammer throw and Zach Ziemek in the decathlon.

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