URBANA, Ill. – Behind a record-setting individual effort from junior Mohammed Ahmed, No. 2 Wisconsin laid claim to its 13th-consecutive Big Ten title in dominating fashion at the Illinois Arboretum on Sunday morning.
The Badgers easily distanced themselves from the field by placing five runners in the top six for a team score of 17 points. Ahmed crossed the line first, setting a Big Ten meet record with his 8-kilometer time of 23 minutes, 18 seconds.
Junior Maverick Darling followed as the runner-up in a time of 23:26, with senior Elliot Krause came in third at 23:27. Junior Reed Connor and senior Ryan Collins finished fifth and sixth, respectively, with identical times of 23:36.
Minnesota senior Hassan Mead was able to break up the Badgers’ run at a perfect score by claiming fourth in 23:29.
As it was, UW’s score matched the second-best total in meet history. The Badgers’ 16-point effort in 2005 stands as the Big Ten record.
“Coach Byrne said, if the opportunity was there, go for it, and we had the green light to do that,” Ahmed said. “When I made my move, I wasn’t really thinking about the individual title, I was just trying to get rid of some of the Indiana runners who were on us, and it worked.”
Rounding out the top five of the field were No. 7 Indiana in second place with 60 points, No. 21 Michigan in third and No. 12 Minnesota in fourth — both with 104 points — and No. 26 Ohio State fifth with 138.
“It is amazing,” Ahmed said of the team performance. “We really love each other, and everybody has that brotherhood that you need to be contending. If you have that brotherhood, you have that trust with each other, and we really have that.”
Sweeping the top three places, Ahmed, Darling and Krause each earned first-team All-Big Ten honors for the third consecutive season. Prior to Sunday, only five UW athletes had accomplished the feat of posting three consecutive All-Big Ten first team performances.
Connor and Collins also were named to the all-conference first team as top-seven finishers.
|*Michigan wins tiebreaker to finish third|
|• Conference Championship Central|
Despite the individual accolades and a number of strong individual performances, Darling reiterated that success comes from working together as a team.
“I think we all know we’re going to push each other,” Darling said. “We know that if we run together as well as we can it’s going to be a lot better for each one of us individually.”
“I think they enjoy being around each other and enjoy helping each other out,” UW head coach Mick Byrne said, who claimed his 21st-consecutive conference title, dating back to his days at Iona. “If one guy is hurt, they hold off and wait for him to recover and pick up a bit in spirits.
“It’s team first, and then individual later. You don’t always see that in other teams.”
Holding such a long winning streak in at the Big Ten championship, the Badgers pressured themselves to perform at their best and carry on what has become a record-setting dynasty.
“When you have a streak as long as we do, there is pressure coming into a meet like the Big Ten meet,” Darling said. “You want to win, and you have to win, because you’re a Badger.”
“We know we’re competing for the University of Wisconsin, and that means you have to compete,” Ahmed said. “You can’t be mediocre.”
Looking far from mediocre in their first test of the championship season, Darling felt some of the pressure the Badgers were feeling leading up to the Big Ten meet is now off. The next challenge is taking care of business through the NCAA championship.
“We’re over that hump, and we’re just going to ride the hill down,” Darling said. “Obviously, we’re looking forward to Nov. 21, but we still have to get through regionals. We still have 21 days, so we have to take care of the little things.”