TERRE HAUTE, Ind. — Mohammed Ahmed had the green light, and it left competitors seeing nothing but red.
Ahmed left the Badgers’ usual pack-racing plan — as well as most of the field — in his dust and led Wisconsin to its fifth national championship on Monday afternoon at the 2011 NCAA championship meet.
Behind the junior’s fifth-place finish, the Badgers tallied just 97 points as a team to claim their first NCAA crown since 2005. Seniors Elliot Krause (17th place) and Ryan Collins (23rd) and junior Reed Connor (36th) joined Ahmed as All-Americans, while junior Maverick Darling crossed the line 46th in the 10-kilometer race.
“We’re national champions, you can’t be anything but happy,” UW head coach Mick Byrne said. “We had that target on our back all along being ranked No. 1 and we knew it was going to come down to a real tough battle, and that’s how it played out.”
The Badgers had embraced a team mentality throughout the season, a strategy of running as a group that had kept them undefeated in each of the four meets in which they ran at full strength.
They deviated from that plan Monday, but the result was precisely the same.
|Complete championship results|
|• Team results|
|• Individual results|
Ahmed went to the front early and ran 10th as the field passed the 2-kilometer mark. He moved up to fifth as the race hit the halfway point, but Arizona freshman Lawi Lalang and Iona senior Leonard Korir has already begun to pull away by the time the field came to the 5K point.
Still, Ahmed — the reigning Big Ten champion — did what was necessary for the Badgers to claim the team title, remaining fifth as the lead pack completed 8 kilometers.
“Mick kind of let me go a little bit and said go run with those front guys,” Ahmed said. “That just says that he believes in me and I just took that opportunity and went after it.”
With his finish in 29:06, Ahmed earned All-America honors for the third-consecutive season, becoming the 12th Wisconsin athlete to earn at least three All-America citations.
Krause was strong as the Badgers’ No. 2 finisher in 29:41 and picked up All-America laurels for the first time. Collins was an All-American for the second-consecutive year, finishing in 29:52 for the Badgers after finishing 32nd while running at Virginia last season.
“It feels like I’ve been here for five (years), these guys have been tremendous,” Collins said, who joined the Badgers as a transfer this fall. “This is what I came here for. From day one this is all we’ve been talking about, to win the national championship.
“To have five guys run well on the same day is something rare, especially at this type of championship meet. It’s just amazing.”
Connor clocked in at 30:08 earned his first All-America award after finishing 95th in his NCAA debut last season. The Badgers’ lineup was rounded out by Drew Shields in 112th (30:53) and Michael Brice in 240th place (32:27).
For Byrne, the title marks the culmination of 23 years of work invested as a head coach, including the last four in Madison. Byrne’s third appearance on the podium in four seasons as the Badgers’ mentor is certainly the most special.
“It’s no secret that I left the comfort of New York to come here, I left my family behind,” Byrne said. “This win today is for my family. It’s also for the athletes and the university, but my family first.”
For the athletes, writing the latest chapter in the Badgers’ storied distance running history means joining some exclusive company with UW’s championship teams from 1982, 1985, 1988 and 2005.
“This is for us, but it’s also for the next generation of Badgers, as well,” Ahmed said. “It’s exciting that the Badgers of the future will be looking back at our names for inspiration.”