McDonald wins national championship in front of record-setting home crown

Wisconsin senior Morgan McDonald outkicked Stanford's Grant Fisher and Iowa State's Edwin Kurgat to capture the national title on Saturday.

Wisconsin senior Morgan McDonald outkicked Stanford's Grant Fisher and Iowa State's Edwin Kurgat to capture the national title on Saturday.

Image By: Cameron Lane-Flehinger

Morgan McDonald’s training for Saturday’s national championships started six months ago in April, but the journey he took to the start line began years earlier when he and coach Mick Byrne formulated a plan to have the senior redshirt so that his final race would come at home in front of a passionate Badger fanbase.

“I’ve just been focusing on this specific race for so long, it’s been a lot of pressure and intensity all season,” McDonald said. “We’ve had this in mind for a lot longer [than one year], as soon as we thought that we might be hosting it was first mentioned back when I was a sophomore, even a freshman.”

In the end, the pressure was no issue for the Australian star, as McDonald sat just behind the leaders for the first nine kilometers of the race before jumping out of a four-wide sprint to take his first national title, half a second ahead of Stanford senior Grant Fisher.

Fisher and McDonald, the race’s two heavyweight favorites, were neck and neck at the beginning of the home stretch before McDonald pulled away for the victory, building up just enough of a lead to look back and throw up a ‘W’ before the finish line.

“That last 400 meters was crazy,” McDonald said. “When the time was right I kind of put my foot down and just prayed that it was enough to pull away and get the victory."

McDonald’s victory capped an up-and-down two year stretch for the senior that’s included dominant performances but also untimely injuries and setbacks that have kept him from demonstrating his form in the NCAA postseason. He went four consecutive track and cross country seasons without recording a championship result, even as he racked up impressive times and finishes on the international level competing for his native Australia.

“To go through six months of training and as the months pass by the pressure just mounting to try to win this at home in front of this amazing crowd… to do it at home, it’s just amazing,” Byrne said of his star runner. “That kid’s gone through an awful lot, a lot of his hopes have been dashed… but I bet this makes up for that.”

NCAA officials didn't have exact numbers, but they estimated that the crowd that cheering for McDonald at the Zimmer championship course was the largest in the history of the NCAA nationals meet.

Behind McDonald, Northern Arizona put five runners in the top 30 and six in the top 40 to win its third straight title. Senior Tyler Day was the top Lumberjack in fifth, and he and his teammates were raucous and celebratory in the post-race media mixed zone.

“I want to thank Wisconsin for hosting this beautiful event, it’s been great,” senior Peter Lomong said after crashing Day’s interview. “Thank you Wisconsin for a beautiful, beautiful time.”

With the win, the Lumberjacks became just the sixth team ever to capture three consecutive titles, and the first since Arkansas in 2000. NAU hasn’t lost a race in three seasons, and despite the ever-increasing pressure on their shoulders the team shows up to every race looking relaxed and comfortable.

“We like to joke around, just be calm be chill and we just like having a great time,” sophomore Luis Grijalva said as his teammates taunted him. “It’s just another race and that’s the same mindset we have: Calm, chill and relaxed.”

No. 2 BYU lived up to its ranking in finishing second in the team battle, while Portland jumped up to capture the third spot, the Pilots’ second straight podium finish.

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