UW-La Crosse holds off UW-Eau Claire to capture 12th outdoor championship
LA CROSSE, Wis. -- The host took the spoils Saturday during the final day of competition for the 2013 NCAA Division III Men’s Outdoor Track & Field Championship as Wisconsin-La Crosse triumphed in Roger Harring Stadium at the Veterans Memorial Field Sports Complex by beating runner-up Wisconsin-Eau Claire by two points 66-64.
It was a breakthrough for Wisconsin-La Crosse, which had finished second the past two DIII outdoor championships to 2011 champion North Central (Ill.) and 2012 champion McMurray.
More significantly, it is the Eagles’ 12th DIII outdoor title and the first since they went back to back in 2006-07.
“All the alums, the friends, the families — this is beyond me,” said Wisconsin-La Crosse head coach Josh Buchholtz, as his athletes took the NCAA trophy on an impromptu victory lap around their home stadium.
The top-ranked team entering this week’s national meet, Wisconsin-La Crosse surged ahead on Thursday’s opening-day events, closing with a 26-18 lead ahead of North Central. Not much changed after Friday’s second round, except standings tightening at the top. The Eagles stayed out front, but by a much narrower margin — leading North Central by one point 27-26 as Saturday’s final-round competition opened.
La Crosse and Eau Claire — Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Association rivals — emerged as title contenders as one event final after another was completed Saturday afternoon. The 4x400 relay turned out to be a crucial separator; top-seeded Eau Claire won the event, snaring 10 points, but the La Crosse relay team kept pace, finishing fourth to earn five points and cut any advantage that Eau Claire had grabbed in half.
Wisconsin La-Crosse senior Isaac Vazquez was a major contributor, winning Friday’s long jump title, finishing second in Saturday’s triple jump and anchoring the 4x100 relay team. The latter was unexpected; he was Buchholtz’s choice to replace an injured teammate, and did so in the midst of the triple jump competition, which went on hold until he completed his relay duties.
“The guys have been here for four years, they’ve done this a couple of times,” Buchholtz said of finding a way to rack up points. “They know what this is all about.”
Saturday’s victory gave Wisconsin-La Crosse a sweep of the DIII track and field championships this season as the Eagles won their 16th indoor title in March.
“The indoor was great,” Buchholtz said. “It was one of those things I felt a lot easier. We knew we had some control of that one. But this one, the emotions are so much higher. It came down to the wire.”
The top four teams in the final outdoor standings — La Crosse, Eau Claire, third-place Wisconsin-Oshkosh and fourth-place Wisconsin-Whitewater — attest to WIAC strength in national circles.
"Our conference competitors, you gotta give a hats-off to them,” Buchholtz said. “WIC sweep, one through four, that’s impressive. Eau Claire gave us a run for the money right down to the 4x400, [us] knowing what we had to do, then doing it on our home turf.”