UW Health Sports Medicine 

On day of questions, Darling provides emphatic answer


2012 Wisconsin adidas Invitational
Zimmer Championship Course • Madison, Wis.
Game Photo

Championship Results Printable Get     Acrobat  Reader
• Distance: 8 Kilometers

 Team Results
1. Stanford 135
2. Iona 145
3. Oklahoma 166
4. Texas 267
5. Arkansas 308
17. Wisconsin 489
 Individual Results
1. Lawi Lalang Arizona 23:03
2. Stephen Sambu Arizona 23:07
3. Matt Gillespie Iona 23:25
4. Henry Lelei Texas A&M 23:26
5. Maverick Darling Wisconsin 23:28
62. Rob Finnerty Wisconsin 24:05
89. Alexander Hatz Wisconsin 24:14
157. Michael Brice Wisconsin 24:31
176. Michael Van Voorhis Wisconsin 24:36
210. Alex Brill Wisconsin 24:49
286. Neal Berman Wisconsin 25:55
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MADISON, Wis. -- There are plenty of question marks surrounding the Wisconsin men’s cross country team heading into championship season.

The Badgers learned at least one answer Friday, however. Senior Maverick Darling can still run with the nation’s elite.

In his season debut, Darling led the way for the No. 1-ranked Badgers in their own Wisconsin adidas Invitational, racing to a fifth-place finish in the 8-kilometer event in 23 minutes, 28 seconds.

“I wanted to be top five today,” said Darling, a 2010 All-American.

That goal was achieved, but Wisconsin’s streak of nine consecutive meet titles was snapped as the Badgers -- the meet’s defending champions -- finished 17th as a team.

 Fast Facts
• Badgers finish 17th overall with team score of 489 points
Maverick Darling led UW, finishing 5th in his season debut
• Lalang wins individual title, breaking his own course record

Of course, this year’s entry looked much different than the squad the breezed to victory on the Thomas Zimmer Championship Course in 2011.

Senior Reed Connor ran, but did so unattached, and finished 18th overall with a time of 23:43. Senior Mohammed Ahmed did not compete.

“This is a new year. It’s obviously a new team with a different heartbeat,” UW head coach Mick Byrne said. “When you lose characters like Elliot Krause and Ryan Collins, they were the glue that kept this team together.

“It is very hard to replace guys like that.”

Stanford claimed the meet title with a score of 135 points. Iona was second with 145 points, with Oklahoma third (166 points), Texas fourth (267) and Arkansas fifth (308).

Arizona sophomore Lawi Lalang defended  his meet title by winning the individual crown in 23:03, breaking his own meet record of 23:10 set last year. Senior teammate Stephen Sambu finished just behind in second in 23:07.

Darling ran with the leaders throughout the race. He used the meet as a measuring stick, of sorts, to compare himself with the nation’s top runners just six weeks out from the NCAA championship.

“I have always had my eye on that. I want to be in that (NCAA) top five, and I know I can be,” Darling said. “It’s just a matter of doing it and having the right day.

“I just have to keep looking further on down the line and be ready.”

There are still a lot of questions about the current roster that need to be answered. If Ahmed and Connor compete this season, who will join them and Darling as scoring threats for the Badgers at the Big Ten and NCAA championships?

“I think it is as good as anybody’s top three, maybe a little bit better,” said Byrne. “But you don’t win national championships with three guys, you have to have two other guys.”

With Connor running unattached and Ahmed not competing, Byrne wanted to see how the rest of his team would respond.

“Maverick ran well and Reed looked like he had a pretty good run,” Byrne said. “Those two guys are in a pretty good spot, we just now have to figure out the rest of the puzzle and we are going to have to do that real quickly here.

“For those two guys down the road it all looks good and if you throw Mo (Mohammed) in there than I think we will be okay.”

Senior Rob Finnerty ran well, finishing second for UW and 62nd overall with a time of 24:05.

“That is a great run for a guy like that,” Byrne said. “Rob Finnerty looked like he was having a real good run out there today. I think he is going to get better.”

Sophomore Alex Hatz was the third Badger across the line, finishing 89th in 24:14.

“For most of the race, I liked what I saw from Finnerty and Hatz,” Byrne said.

Junior Michael Brice and sophomore Michael Van Voorhis rounded out the top five for UW, finishing 157th and 176th with times of 24:31 and 24:36, respectively.

Overall, Byrne wasn’t pleased with how his team ran as a whole.

“When you go back into our fifth, sixth, seventh guys out there today, that’s not acceptable,” he said. “At first you walk away and feel a little humbled and say ‘My gosh, what happened out there?’ But it is what it is.

“When you put one guy in a uniform and hold out two of your top guys, you have to accept that and you have to be big boys about it.”

Darling and Connor used the race as an opportunity to provide leadership for the less experienced runners.

“I used my experience by telling these guys it’s a different feeling now that we are starting to get into the championship season,” Darling said. “They just have to realize that we are going to keep get better and better every meet and they just have to keep the eye on the prize.

“We have a Big Ten championship to win, and hopefully another national championship, so they just need to focus on what we are doing.”

“For the guys trying to earn their spot, they haven’t competed in a race like this where the Badgers are counting on them,” said Connor, a 2011 All-American. “They need to feel that pressure, of what it’s like to get in a big race and earn their spot. It was a new experience for them and there was mixed results.

“We have a lot of questions unanswered about this team right now. We had some of the questions answered today and we will work from there.”

Byrne stressed the fact that Friday’s result won’t necessarily impact UW’s run into the championship season.

“We talk about this all the time, don’t ever lose sight of the fact that it’s the 12th of October,” he said. “A lot of teams out here today came for one reason, and that’s to get points. You could see the energy a lot of coaches were putting into this meet, and for me, it’s a waste of time doing that.”

In Friday’s “B” race, the Badgers finished first overall with a team score of 60 points, led by senior Danny Buechel’s fourth-place finish in 24:37, freshman Sam Hacker’s fifth-place finish in 24:41, and sophomore Jacob Naylor’s seventh-place finish in 24:42.

The Badgers race again Oct. 28 at the Big Ten Championship in East Lansing, Mich.

“We know we are the team with the target on our back, going for our 14th straight (Big Ten) title,” Byrne said. “I feel pretty confident going into that meet. It is our trophy to win and we also understand that everybody is shooting for us.

“We enjoy that, we like that challenge.”

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