Year in review: male athletes of the year

Simon Bairu

Simon Bairu is BadgerNation.com's University of Wisconsin male athlete of the year

Just as they dominated the Big Ten yet again, the men's cross country and track and field teams dominate BadgerNation.com's list of the top male athletes at the University of Wisconsin. Simon Bairu and Chris Solinsky were easy choices for the No. 1 and No. 2 spots campus wide and the list is littered with their teammates. Four of the top 15 are distance runners, and four of the top five, five of the top 10 and six of the top 15 competed in track and field. About half of the honorable mention list is consumed with track and field athletes.

The Badger runners, jumpers and throwers, after all, accumulated 18 All-American honors between 11 athletes this academic year. They not only won team conference titles in cross country, indoor and outdoor track but in doing so had three of the best performances in Big Ten history. They swept the top three spots in the conference cross country meet, won one individual title and had several top three finishes at the Big Ten indoor meet, and they won six events at the Big Ten outdoor competition.

Still, other UW male athletes had their fair share of success, which made creating this list so difficult. Our No. 3 through No. 6 athletes were in a virtually tie. The choices there? Between Erasmus James, the Big Ten's Defensive Player of the Year; Mike Wilkinson, a unanimous All-Big Ten basketball player; Demi Omole, the fastest man in UW history; and Matt Tegenkamp, one of the most decorated athletes in any sport in UW history. Suffice it to say, they all had marvelous 2004-05 campaigns.

As a measure of how strong the available résumés were, consider that three football All-Americans, a cadre of track All-Americans and/or conference champions and one of the greatest goaltenders in WCHA history did not make the top 15.

No. 1 – Simon Bairu, junior, cross country and track and field

As successful as the UW distance running program is year in and year out, Simon Bairu enjoyed one of the best years any Badger athlete has managed to put together.

Bairu won the NCAA Men's Cross Country Championship and led the Badgers' to their third consecutive national runner-up finish as a team, becoming the first UW men's cross country national champion since 1985 when he crossed the finish line 30 minutes, 38 seconds. Then, in the outdoor track season, Bairu broke a 29-year old UW record in the outdoor 10,000 meters by more than 20 seconds. His time of 28:04.75 at the Cardinal Invitational, which is the second-fastest mark in Big Ten history, qualified him for this summer's World Championships. It was also the second fastest time recorded by a collegian this year and one of the top marks of any American anywhere.

Bairu was also the Big Ten's Cross Country Champion and Athlete of the Year for the second consecutive year… He won the Canadian Cross Country Championship for the second consecutive year… placed second at the Roy Griak cross country invitational… Bairu entered the NCAA Outdoor Championships as the top-ranked 10,000 runner, but he placed 14th in the event… He was runner-up in the 10,000 at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships… Placed fifth in the 5,000 at Big Ten Indoors.

No. 2 – Chris Solinsky, sophomore, cross country and track and field

Solinsky won a national title in the 3,000 meters at the NCAA Indoor Championships, completing the distance in 7:53.59. He was UW's first individual national champion in indoor track since 1996… Earned three more All-American honors in 2004-05: Placed 16th at NCAA cross country meet, earning second consecutive All-American honor in that sport; finished third in the 5,000 at NCAA Indoors in 13:45.34; Placed eighth at NCAA outdoors in the 5,000…. Now has seven All-American honors in just two years at UW.

Runner-up at Big Ten cross country meet (23:55)… Placed third in Roy Griak cross country invitational (24:11)… Placed second at the Big Ten indoor meet in the 5,000 and third at Big Ten indoors in the 3,000… Took second at Big Ten outdoors in the 1,500.

No. 3 – Matt Tegenkamp, senior, cross country and track and field

The top three cannot all be distance runners, can it? Yes it can. Try as we might to avoid it, this was exactly the way the rankings broke down. Tegenkamp, in the end, stayed right on the heels of his cross country teammates. All he did was win four All-American awards this year, break two Big Ten records and establish new marks for career excellence in UW's running programs.

Tegenkamp finished third in the 3,000 meters at NCAA Indoor Championships in a time of 7:55.72 and fifth in the 5,000 at national indoor meet in 13:46.13. Tegenkamp's two indoor All-American honors give him four for his career… He also received All-American honors for his 11th place finish at the NCAA Cross Country Championships, his third such honor, and for his fifth-place finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championships… His 7th track All-American honor and 10th All-American laurel across track and cross country are both school records. Had he been healthy throughout his career, Tegenkamp certainly would have even more hardware on the shelf.

Tegenkamp had seemingly done it all in his career even before 2004-05 — except win a conference title during the outdoor season. That changed when he won the Big Ten championship in the 1,500 outdoors.

He also won the Big Ten title in the indoor 5,000 for the second consecutive year with a meet record time of 13:56.02, breaking the mark he set last year (13:57.68). He finished second in the 3,000 at Big Ten indoors… Set new UW and Big Ten records in the 5,000 meters indoors with a 13:36.48 at the Husky Classic, shattering the mark he set in 2004 (13:44.06). Also broke his own school record in the 3,000 indoors, posting a 7:51.75 at Meyo Invitational Feb. 5….. Placed third at Big Ten Cross Country Championship in 23:57 behind teammates Bairu and Solinsky… Won the Roy Griak cross country invitational in 24:02.

No. 4 – Erasmus James, defense end, football

James was one of the most dominant players in college football before an injury impeding him during the second half of 2004…. Consensus first-team All-American, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year… led Badgers with eight sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss… first UW consensus All-American since 2000… finalist for the Nagurski and Bednarik honors for the nation's best defensive player, the Lombardi Trophy for the nation's best lineman and the Hendricks Award for the nation's best defensive lineman…. Touchdown Club of Columbus, Ohio named him the national defensive lineman of the year… twice named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week. Finished season with 35 tackles (27 solo), three pass breakups, seven quarterback hurries, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery… Selected No. 18 overall in the first round of the NFL Draft by the Minnesota Vikings.

No. 5 – Demi Omole, sophomore sprinter, track and field

Omole placed third in the 100 at NCAA Outdoor Championships (season's best time 10.28) and fourth in the 60 (6.67) at NCAA Indoor Championships for a pair of All-American honors… Omole's 6.62-second 60 at the Illinois Invitational is a school and conference record… He ran the fastest 60 meter time (6.71) at the semifinals of the Big Ten indoor championships, but could not compete in the finals because of a strained hamstring…. Anchored 400 relay team that won Big Ten outdoor title for second consecutive year and placed 13th at NCAA outdoors… Won the Big Ten outdoor championship in the open 100 for the second consecutive year… Placed fifth in 200 at Big Ten outdoors…. Last summer he won the 2004 U.S. Junior National Championship in the 100, was part of a world record-setting and gold-medal winning 400 relay team at the World Junior Championships, and he earned a silver medal in the open 100 at the World Junior Championships.

No. 6 – Mike Wilkinson, senior forward, basketball

Consensus first-team All-Big Ten. Unanimous all-conference choice by the coaches, one of only two such players in the league… NABC All-District 11, USBWA All-District 5… Averaged 14.3 points, 7.4 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. Was sixth in the Big Ten in conference-only scoring with 16.3 points per game, and third in the league in conference-only rebounding with 7.9 per contest… His 83 offensive rebounds this season were the second most in UW history. Became the only Badger in history to lead team in rebounding for four seasons…. Iron Mike did not miss a game in his career and started 98 straight to close out his career…. Finished his tenure ranked sixth in career scoring (1,532 points), third in rebounding (856), first in offensive rebounds (311), first in games played (130), first in minutes played (4,023), third in blocked shots (117), third in steals (169), eighth in games started (98), fifth in free throws made (394) and seventh in field goals (522).

No. 7 — Nick Van Sicklen, senior midfielder/forward, soccer

All-Big Ten first-team selection. Led conference with 12 goals and seven assists for 31 points in regular season… Second-team All-Great Lakes Region for second time (also earned that honor in 2002)…. Badgers offensive MVP for third time… Earned National Player of the Week honors in October after scoring nine goals in four games… Finished career ranked fourth in UW history with 76 points. The Madison native was the 19th overall selection in the January MLS SuperDraft, going to D.C. United in the second round.

No. 8 — Tom Clum, junior wrestler, 133-pound weight class

Took third place at NCAAs for first All-American honor… third at Big Ten Championships…. Finished season ranked No. 3 in nation at 133 pounds, according to Intermat… He was 28-5 overall and 14-2 in dual matches… 6-2 in Big Ten duals.

No. 9 — Tom Gilbert, junior defenseman, hockey

Team MVP… Third-team All-WCHA defenseman was largely overlooked regionally and nationally… Anchored a youthful blue line that helped the Badgers allow the fewest goals per game of any WCHA team… Regularly played 30+ minutes per game down the stretch… Finished season with eight goals and nine assists.

No. 10 — Joe Thomas, sophomore, shot put and discuss, track and field; offensive tackle, football

Placed second in the shot put at Big Ten Indoor Track and Field Championships with a throw of 62-0 ¼, breaking a school record that had stood since 1979. Placed 14th at the NCAA indoors (56-11 ½)…. Second-place at Big Ten outdoors in shot put (62-5 ¼) and fifth in discus (177-2)…. Placed 15th at NCAA outdoors in shot put (58-7 ½)… Consensus honorable mention All-Big Ten offensive tackle.

No. 11 — Scott Starks, senior cornerback, football

Team MVP… first-team All-Big Ten by coaches and second-team by media… had 45 tackles (36 solo), four tackles for loss, one sack, one interception, nine pass breakups, two fumbles forced and two fumble recoveries … named national and Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week after returning a fumble 40 yards for game-winning touchdown at Purdue. Play was later deemed the Game Changing Play of the Year… Starks made an big impact as a sprinter on the punt coverage unit… Also returned six kicks for 119 yards… started 48 of 51 career games, the fourth most career starts in UW history… third round pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL Draft, the No. 87 overall selection.

No. 12 — Brady Reinke, senior wrestler, 184 pounds

Instrumental in Badgers' best Big Ten finish in more than a decade… An incredible 7-0 in Big Ten duals and 9-0 in duals overall, he finished with an 18-3 overall record and was ranked sixth nationally at 184 in the final Intermat poll… Placed third at Big Ten Championships and was 2-2 in NCAA Championships, though he did not place.

No. 13 — Tim Nelson, sophomore, cross country and track and field

Won 10,000 meters at the Big Ten Outdoor Championships and placed eighth in the event at the NCAA Outdoors (29:01.56), earning All-American honors… Placed 13th at NCAA indoors in the 5,000 in 14:06.76… Finished eighth in 5,000 at Big Ten indoors. Second-team All-Big Ten in cross country after finishing 13th at conference meet. Placed 101st at NCAA Cross Country meet.

No. 14 Alando Tucker, sophomore forward, basketball

Consensus third-team All-Big Ten. Second-team NABC All-District 11… Averaged 15.2 points, 6.1 rebounds and 1.7 assists per game… Syracuse Regional All-Tournament team. Named to Big Ten All-Tournament team after averaging 13.7 points in three games. Hit two buzzer beaters to win games… Ranked eighth in the Big Ten in conference-only rebounding with 6.8 per game and seventh in the league in full-season scoring… Only second player in UW history to score 900 points prior to his junior season, joining Michael Finley. Averaged 18.5 points versus ranked teams.

No. 15 Adam Mania, senior swimmer

Along with classmate Tim Liebhold, led Badgers to No. 19 finish at NCAA meet… All American in two events and honorable mention All American in one… At NCAA Championships placed seventh in 200 backstroke, eighth in 100 back and 14th in 200 individual medley… Second-team All-Big Ten… At Big Ten Championships, placed second in the 100-yard backstroke, breaking UW record with 46.86… Also at Big Ten meet: placed third in 800 freestyle relay, third in 200 freestyle relay, fourth in 400 medley relay, fifth in 200 backstroke, fifth in 400 freestyle relay and sixth in 200 individual medley… Qualified for 2004 Olympics with Polish team in the 100 meter back stroke last fall… 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials qualifier… Team co-MVP.

Honorable mention

Basketball

Clayton Hanson, senior guard: second on team in minutes, led Big Ten in 3-point shooting. Syracuse Regional All-Tournament team. UW Athlete of the Month in March.

Cross country and/or track and field

Rick Bellford, junior, jumps: Ninth in triple jump at NCAA Indoors (51-11), earning All-American acclaim. Third place at Big Ten indoors in triple jump. Placed 20th at NCAA outdoors in triple jump. Fifth at Big Ten outdoors in long jump (24-0 ¼) and fourth in triple jump (50-8).

Nathan Brown, junior multiple events: Placed 12th at NCAA outdoors in decathlon. Second place at Big Ten outdoors in javelin with 209-2, the third best throw in UW history.

Paul Check, junior hurdler: Won the Big Ten Outdoor Championship in the 110 hurdles (40.32).

Joe Detmer, junior, middle distance: Earned All-American honors as the 400 meter runner of third-place distance medley team at NCAA Indoors.

Ben Gregory, junior, middle distance: Earned All-American honors as the 1,200 meter runner on the third-place distance medley team at NCAA Indoors.

Jvontai Hanserd, senior sprinter: Placed second at Big Ten indoors in 200 meters (personal best 21.50). Part of 400 relay team that won back-to-back conference outdoor titles and placed 13th at NCAAs. Placed sixth at Big Ten outdoors in 200. Member of 1,600 relay that placed sixth at Big Ten outdoors.

Paul Hubbard, sophomore, jumps: Second place in long jump at Big Ten indoors (24-4 ½) and seventh in triple jump. Spring football injury forced him to redshirt outdoor track season.

Alonzo Moore, junior, jumps: In early drafts of this list, Moore was as high as No. 12. In the end he and Joe Pavelski were the toughest to leave out of the top 15… Moore placed third in the triple jump at NCAA indoors with a personal best 53-9 ¾, the second best mark in school history… Second place at Big Ten indoors in triple jump and third in long jump… 13th at NCAA outdoors in triple jump. Eighth at Big Ten outdoors in long jump (23-10 ¾) and second in triple jump (52-1 ¾).

Dan Murray, senior, middle distance: Earned All-American honors as the 800 runner on the third-place distance medley team at NCAA Indoors.

Darren Niedermeyer, senior, pole vault: Won Big Ten outdoor title in pole vault (16-6 ¾) despite competing only twice during outdoor season because of back injury.

Ben Roland, junior, multiple events: Placed 12th in heptathlon at NCAA indoors. Finished second in heptathlon at Big Ten Indoor Championships with personal best 5,414 points. 15th at NCAA outdoors in decathlon. Third at Big Ten outdoors in decathlon.

Josh Spiker, senior, distance: Earned All-American honor as the 1,600 runner on the third-place distance medley team at NCAA Indoors. First-team all-conference in cross country after placing sixth at Big Ten meet. 88th at NCAA Cross Country meet. Placed 11th at the NCAA outdoors in the 1,500 meters (3:42.39).

Football

Dan Buenning, senior guard: Consensus first-team All-Big Ten… first-team All-American by Pro Football Weekly… second-team All-American by Associated Press… honorable mention All-American by CNNSI.com.

Anttaj Hawthorne, senior defensive tackle: Honorable mention All-American by CNNSI.com… consensus first-team All-Big Ten… 11.5 tackles for loss tied for team lead… six sacks second on team.

Jim Leonhard, senior safety and punt returner: First-team All-American by Pro Football Weekly, second-team All-American by Walter Camp Foundation and honorable mention All-American by CNNSI.com… Consensus first-team All-Big Ten… Finalist for inaugural Ronnie Lott Trophy… semifinalist for Thorpe Award… Set Big Ten career record for punt return yardage with 1,347… School record 105 career punt returns and 12.8-yard-per-punt-return average… Second on team with 72 tackles and tied for team lead with three interceptions and 10 pass breakups…. Had 35 punt returns for 443 yards as a senior… finished career tied for school record with 21 career interceptions… played about half the season with a stress fracture in his foot, which was diagnosed while training for NFL Draft.

Anthony Davis, senior tailback: Consensus second-team All-Big Ten. Rushed for 973 yards and 11 touchdowns on 201 carries. Finished career second at UW and fifth in Big Ten with 4,676 rushing yards.

Golf

Garrett Jones, sophomore: Badgers' top finisher in five tournaments this spring. His 27-round average of 72.7 shots is a UW single-season record.

Hockey

Bernd Bruckler, senior goaltender: second-team All-WCHA. Three-time WCHA Defensive Player of the Week. Posted .914 save percentage, 2.40 goals against average and 17-12-3 record. Fourth in league-only games in goals against average (2.35) and third in save percentage (.916). Finished UW career as program leader with a 2.48 goals against average and was No. 2 all-time with career .916 save percentage.

Robbie Earl, sophomore wing: second-team All-WCHA selection. Led Badgers in goals (20) and was second in points (44). Tied for eighth in conference in points and goals and 14th in assists.

Joe Pavelski, freshman center, hockey: Along with Alonzo Moore, Pavelski was the toughest athlete to leave out of the top 15… He was named to USCHO.com and Inside College Hockey national All-Rookie teams. Also a member of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association All-Rookie team… Led the Badgers with 45 points and 29 assists, becoming the first freshman to lead the team in scoring since current head coach Mike Eaves posted 54 points in 1974-75. Tied for fifth in the WCHA in points, tied for eighth in assists and tied for 15th in goals.

Soccer

Aaron Hohlbein, sophomore defender: second-team All-Big Ten. Badgers defensive MVP. Had one goal and two assists for four points.

Noah Goerlitz, senior midfielder: Second-team All-Big Ten and Big Ten All-Tournament Team honoree. Had five assists.

Swimming

Tim Liebhold, senior: All American in one event and honorable mention All-American in two… Placed sixth at NCAA Championships in 400-yard individual medley, 12th in 200 IM and 16th in 200 backstroke… Set UW record in 400-yard individual medley (3:46.08)… third in 400 IM, third in 800 freestyle relay, third in 200 freestyle relay, fourth in 200 yard IM, fourth in 400 medley relay, fifth in 400 freestyle relay and seventh in 200 backstroke at Big Ten championships… Team co-MVP.

Tennis

Jeremy Sonkin, freshman: No. 2 singles player. Led team with 24 wins overall and 16 wins in spring dual season. Was 8-3 in Big Ten… Team MVP… Was 24-12 overall and 16-5 in spring dual season. Was 9-12 at No. 3 doubles and 0-1 at No. 2 doubles in dual competition.

Wrestling

Ryan Flaherty, junior 197: eighth place at NCAAs… earned first All-American honor… third at Big Ten Championship… Led team in wins with 29 and pins with 16. Was 29-10 overall, 11-4 in duals and 4-3 in Big Ten duals.

Craig Henning, freshman 149: Second place at Big Ten Championships, the highest finish for a UW wrestler… Was 23-10 overall, 11-5 in duals and 4-4 in Big Ten duals.

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