Big Time For The Big Ten, Blossoming Athletes Embrace Team Approach; Loxsom Runs 600 WL On Oversized Oval by David Hunter

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The Big Ten Conference meet is about competition. Good, old fashioned mano a mano and womeno a womeno. David Hunter gives us his view of the Big Ten Indoor Championships in this column. It is all about enjoying what our sport is really about: celebrating the clutch performance as athletes run, jump and throw...We hope you enjoy! 

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Casimir Loxsom, photo by PhotoRun.net

Big Ten Indoor Track & Field Championships

Big Time For The Big Ten
Blossoming Athletes Embrace Team Approach;
Loxsom Runs 600 WL On Oversized Oval


February 23, 2013
Geneva, Ohio

An often-overlooked aspect of collegiate track & field is the excitement of a good old-fashioned battle for a team title. And the track enthusiasts who attended this weekend's Big Ten Indoor Track & Field Championships were treated to fervent struggles for the team crowns. Make no mistake, when you combine a team title competition -- missing, of course, from post-collegiate, open track & field competition -- with the zestful enthusiasm of Division I Dave_Hunter_Right_On_Track.pngathletes, the result is a wonderful mixture of intense competition and unrestrained, team-oriented contributions by all team members.

As the meet unfolded, the Big Ten wasted no time getting down to business in Spire Institute's palatial indoor track & field facility. The record book took a beating during Day One as 10 venue records were set and -- and as the afternoon waned -- 3 Big Ten championship meet records were also taken down.  The record breaking started as Wisconsin's Maverick Darling captured the men's 3000 in 7:50.97, nipping Indiana's Andrew Bayer and Zachary Mayhew -- both exactly one second back -- and setting new Big Ten meet and Spire facility records. Quickly thereafter, Michigan's women's distance medley quartet of Shannon Osika, Meg Bellino, Jillian Smith and anchor star Rebecca Addison won in a new Big Ten meet record time of 11:11.41. Only moments later, the Penn State foursome of Robby Creese, Matt Gilmore, Ryan Brennan, and anchorman Brennon Kidder, captured the men's DMR in 9:39.87 -- both a new Big Ten championship meet record and a new facility record. As the day concluded, the Nebraska women's 50 point total gave them an impressive 18 point lead over Wisconsin. The tables were turned on the men's side as the Wisconsin men's total of 39 points gave them a slight lead over the Nebraska men (29¾ points).

As Day Two began, the meet's anticipated marquee race was targeted to be the men's 600. Yet it proved to be at once a confusing and an exhilarating event. After the preliminary rounds on Day One, it was expected that the Day Two final would be a classic battle between Penn State's Casimir Loxsom -- whose first round time of 1:16.33 established a new Spire facility record -- and 3-time defending Big Ten 600 champion Harun Abda of Minnesota. Yet a reported, and arcane, Big Ten coaches' rule placed the two top contenders in separate sections of the final -- turning an anticipated spirited competition into a time trial. Abda -- in the first section -- ran with a vengeance. With the Minnesota faithful howling "Haroooon!!", the Golden Gopher sped around the Spire's oversized 300 meter oval to an impressive unchallenged first section victory. Walking onto the track for the second section, Loxsom saw that Abda's winning time of 1:15.80 of just moments ago had eclipsed Loxsom's Big Ten and facility record. He knew what he had to do. Flying from the start, Loxsom went by 300 meters in sub-36 seconds. Loxsom -- loose and maintaining excellent leg speed -- flowed on to hit the line in 1:15.42 -- capturing the win and reclaiming the facility, the meet, and the Big Ten records. Loxsom's time -- albeit posted on the Spire's oversized track -- is a 2013 world-leading mark in the 600.

Loxsom offered some insight on the unorthodox seeding for the 600 final. "Just because the way the seeding worked out, we knew that there was a 33% chance that he wouldn't be in my heat, and a 66% chance that he would be in my heat,"  the Penn State middle distance star explained. "We knew going in that regardless what happened in the prelim, if he was not in my heat that we would be kind of time-trialing against each other. That stinks, but there was nothing really we could do about it. So we had to just make the most of it."

Loxsom -- who has been running about "60-70 miles a week" -- explained his plan for this season. "I kind of thought about running the 800 here as practice for getting through the rounds," he said. "But, at the end of the day, running two 600's back to back that fast will be great practice for what it's going to feel like coming through in 1:19 -- 1:20 in a prelim. It will set me up really well for the national prelim and I'll have that extra gear at the end."

But as is the case in collegiate track & field, the quest for the overall team title is no less important than individual performances. And this Big Ten gathering proved to be no exception. As is often is the case, Day Two was a different, more closely-fought battle. It soon became clear that the Day One team leaders would have stiff competition for the team title. On the women's side, several schools clawed their way back into the team competition by mid-afternoon on Day Two. After 14 events, Illinois' 87 points gave the women of the Fighting Illini a very slim lead over Nebraska (83) and Michigan (81). But sophomore Ashley Spencer -- Illinois' long sprint star -- was having one of those magical days. After gliding to the 400 title in a Big Ten meet record time of 52.17, Spencer returned to join teammate Morolake Akinosun -- who earlier had sprinted to the 60 title -- in the 200 final. When Spencer and Akinosun proceeded to finish 1-2 in the 200, the 18 points they captured for the Lady Fighting Illini gave the Illinois women a point total they would never relinquish. The Illini sprint duo gave the Illinois women an additional 10 big points they needed when they capped their impressive day with two powerful legs on Illinois victorious day-ending 4 x 400 relay. Illinois's relay win -- clocked in 3:33:30 -- pushed the Illinois point total to 115 -- just enough to edge Nebraska which finished second in the team race with 112 points. An animated Spencer was excited about the team title. "Today went great -- the whole weekend thing with no finagling. That's just a word we use for 'no messing around,'" smiled Spencer. "We came out here and we got it done. We stepped up. Today has been such a blessing. I couldn't have asked for more -- from myself or from my ladies from Illinois."

Similar dramatic struggles highlighted the fight for men's team title. After 12 events, Michigan and Illinois were tied at 81, but Wisconsin was lurking. With a few points here and there, the Badgers were hanging around -- hoping to be close enough by the time the meet got to the 5000 where they intended to harvest many points in an effort to neutralize Illinois' sprint and hurdle strength. Earlier in the day, Wisconsin was aided greatly with a 1-2 finish in the heptathlon where Japheth Cato [6090] and Zach Ziemek [5846] both broke the facility record and Cato topped his own meet and Big Ten records. Danny Block's heave of 19.40 meters [63' 7¾"] gave the Badgers 10 big points in the shot put.

Indeed, the men's 5000 proved to be pivotal. And while Indiana's Zachary Mayhew ran a savvy, thinking-man's race to grab the win off the final curve, the Badger distance corps finished 2-3-6-7 and scooped up 19 huge points for Wisconsin while Illinois scored no points. Mayhew, whose 13:46.04 was both a P.R. and a Spire facility record, kept his wits about him over the final 800 meters. "During the last 800, I got myself into a good position, right behind the lead pack. I just kind of sat there and let myself relax," explained the fifth-year Hoosier. "And then with one lap to go I knew the frontrunners would be pretty tired from all of the leading that they did. Mohammed [Ahmed of Wisconsin] went around me with about 200 to go and I just matched his move."  And with a smile he added, "Then coming off the turn, I gave it everything I had."  

Wisconsin's point bonanza in the 5000 gave the Badger's a slim 1½ point over Illinois heading into the day's final event -- the 4 x 400 relay. Despite trailing Wisconsin, Illinois' chances in the last relay looked favorable with Juan Green -- 4th in the 400 -- scheduled to run second and big dog Stephon Pamilton -- an impressive 46.07 400 victor earlier in the afternoon -- slotted in on the anchor for the Fighting Illini. Wisconsin gave Illinois the opening it needed when the Badgers ended up placing only eighth for a sole point. But moments earlier, disaster had struck Illinois when anchorman Pamilton -- running unimpeded near the leaders and chasing down his competition -- inexplicably tripped and somersaulted about 280 meters from the finish. Dazed, Pamilton popped right back up -- and walked off the track, denying the Illini any final event points. It will never be known if an impulsive dash by the Big Ten 400 champion to finish the race might have made a difference in the team scoring.

In an interview cut short by an impromptu Gatorade shower perpetrated by the joyfully victorious, yet mischievous Badgers, Wisconsin head coach Ed Nuttycombe reflected on his squad's ultimate team victory. "We knew it was a going to be a hard-fought battle," he confessed. "I have to tip my hat to Illinois. Going in, I knew Illinois was good and improving. They had a great lead and they made it very interesting all the way up to the end."  And with a smile, he added, "We just didn't quit."
 
~Dave Hunter

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