Dominance has been the name of the game for the Wisconsin running programs during the course of the last 20 years. Although the Badgers’ men’s track and field program underwent a change this past offseason when head coach Ed Nuttycombe retired, the results for the men’s indoor season were no different with Mick Byrne at the helm. The Badgers won their second consecutive Big Ten indoor title this past weekend in Geneva, Ohio, edging second place Nebraska by 4.5 points.
In his 30 seasons as head coach, Nuttycombe took home 26 Big Ten crowns between the indoor and outdoor seasons, and Byrne, who is now the director of cross-country and track and field, picked up right where Nuttycombe stopped.
The second-straight Big Ten championship, which was the 10th championship Wisconsin has garnered in the last 15 seasons, was aided by several key individual performances from across the board. As the final day wound to a close Saturday, Wisconsin got some of those key performances when it needed them most to separate from Nebraska to take the crown.
Three strong efforts all came within one race near the tail end of the meet as the Badgers’ Mohammed Ahmed, Reed Connor and Malachy Schrobilgen went 1-2-3 in the 5,000 meters, the second-to-last event of the championship. Ahmed led the way, finishing in a time of 13 minutes, 44.32 seconds, a time that is most likely good enough to earn him a spot at the NCAA Indoor Championships. Connor followed right behind, coming in at 13:49.79 with Schrobilgen (13:51.56) right on Connor’s heels to complete the top-three sweep.
With the tough-nosed effort by those three distance runners who together earned 24 points, Wisconsin only had to finish seventh or better in the final event, the 4×400 relay, to finish number one as a team, a feat the Badgers’ accomplished by taking fifth in the relay.
“We always preach being ‘Badger tough’ and that’s exactly what you saw out there at the end of the meet,” Byrne said to uwbadgers.com of the closing performances in the 5,000 meters and 4×400 relay that helped cement the title. “We were locked up in an extremely tight race with Nebraska for the championship, and our athletes rose to the occasion.”
Two other key individual performances came in another event stretching the course of most of the weekend in the heptathlon. Senior Japheth Cato came away with yet another title in the event, becoming the first ever athlete to win four Big Ten titles in the heptathlon as he racked up 5,837 points across the seven events. The next closest competitor to Cato was his Badger teammate Zach Ziemek, who finished with 5,815 points as the two battled for the top position throughout the weekend with Cato eventually coming out on top.
Although only one could take home the individual championship, their two efforts combined played a big role in the first-place team effort by Wisconsin at the meet.
“It was huge for us to get three guys scoring,” Ziemek said of his, Cato and Charlie Foss’ efforts in the heptathlon. “To get 20 points from the multi-events really boosted our team score and helped us get the team title.”
“It’s always very, very competitive, especially with a guy like Ziemek on my back for two years,” Cato added. “With all the competitors, it’s been a very rough, yet exciting road.”
In the field events, junior Michael Lihrman came up huge for UW with his meet-record throw of 78 1/4 inch, which besides setting a record also earned him first place in the event. Not only did Lihrman win the Big Ten title in the event, but he also holds the NCAA record for the event from a previous throw of 79-7 1/2.
Other key finishes throughout the weekend came from several athletes in both field and running events. Besides his second place finish in the 5,000 meters, Connor also took home the top honors in the 3,000 meters which took place on Friday. Meanwhile in the mile, Alex Hatz took third place in a time of 4:16.12, and Austin Mudd also achieved a third place finish after he crossed the finish line in the 800-meter race at 1:49.56. The other podium finisher for Wisconsin was Collin Taylor, who finished second in the high jump with his leap of 6-11 1/2 inches.
With their second consecutive title the Badgers now have the second-most indoor titles in Big Ten history with their 25 crowns, next to Michigan, which has 26.
“Our guys got it done. I couldn’t be more proud of the way we competed to the end,” Byrne said.