'Awesome' Alicia: Monson takes down the country's top runners in a stunner at Nuttycombe

Junior Alicia Monson proved that she can run with — and beat — the country's best runners with a statement win in Madison on Friday.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

“Holy shit!”

That was all head coach Mick Byrne could muster as he watched Alicia Monson close in on the finish line, her lead on the New Mexico duo of Weini Kelati and Ednah Kurgat only growing.

It was the same reaction fans up and down the home stretch were having in unison as the Wisconsin junior pulled a stunning upset over the best runners in the NCAA to capture the 2018 Nuttycombe Invitational individual title in a time of 19 minutes and 33.3 seconds.

“Oh my God, I almost ran out and through the finish line,” Byrne said. “Alicia, that’s our own Wisconsin girl … and to see her do that at home is fantastic, it’s awesome.”

Monson wasn’t unheard of nationally before Friday’s run — she took 19th at this meet a year ago and was an All-American in the 5,000 meters in indoor and outdoor — but no one outside the program would have predicted this win. Not against a field that featured five of the top seven returners from last year’s national championships, including defending champion Kurgat.

The Amery, Wisconsin native and her coach Jill Miller had different ideas, though, and Miller challenged her before the race to go with the leaders, no matter what happened.

“The plan was to be in the lead pack if it separated — to be right there,” Miller said. “I had the gut feeling that she was on that level but you never know until you’re tested and you put the mind and body together, and she did a great job.”

Monson put herself near the lead right from the opening gun, and as the race progressed and she refused to budge, the murmur on the course grew louder and louder. With a kilometer to go, the buzz was audible among the fans lining the finish line, and when the junior rounded the final turn, a roar erupted from the hometown crowd that carried Monson all the way to the finish line and a career-defining win.

“I definitely heard it,” Monson said. “It’s amazing to have so many people cheering on Wisconsin here; it really gave me what I needed to finish strong.”

The importance of the performance wasn’t lost on either woman, and after the race Monson was rewarded with something that coach Miller rarely dispenses: a hug.

“When I finished she just said, ‘That’s amazing and it deserves a hug,’ and when you get a Jill hug, you know it’s a great day,” Monson said.

Behind Monson’s stellar performance, the Badgers put two more women — junior Amy Davis and senior Shaelyn Sorenson — in the top 30 en route to a sixth-place finish against a field that featured seven of the country’s top 10 teams.

Wisconsin’s strong performance also came with room for improvement as their fourth runner, sophomore Alissa Niggeman, held back and was tasked with pacing for freshman Lucinda Crouch. The duo finished 69th and 70th, respectively, but with Niggeman unleashed, the Badgers could have a formidable top four as the season progresses.

After the race, coaches and athletes alike made sure to caution that it’s only September and the biggest goals of the season are still several weeks away, but it was impossible to ignore the statement that the Badgers — and Monson — made on their home course.

“Our women did an incredible job, and what an amazing run by Alicia,” Byrne said. “To take down the national champion, that’s awesome.”

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