Nov. 5, 2003
PARK RIDGE, IL - Michigan sophomore Rebecca Walter and Wisconsin sophomore Simon Bairu have been named the Women's and Men's Big Ten Cross Country Athletes of the Year, Conference Officials announced today. In addition to capturing the individual titles at this past Sunday's Big Ten Cross Country Championships, both Walter and Bairu paced their respective programs to team victories as well. The individual postseason awards were determined by a vote of the League's cross country head coaches.
Bairu, who hails from Regina, Sasketchewan, improved upon his ninth-place finish at the 2002 Conference meet to capture the 2003 Big Ten men's individual crown with a time of 23:58.5 for the 8,000-meter course. Bairu outdistanced second place by over 20 seconds to take the win. It marked the second straight individual title for a Wisconsin underclassman, as then-sophomore Matt Tegenkamp was the men's champion one year ago. It was also the fifth individual title for the Badgers in the last six years and the 23rd in the program's history.
Walter, the 2002 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, led the Wolverines to their second consecutive team title by improving upon her fifth-place result from last year. A native of Beverly Hills, Mich., Walter completed the women's 6,000-meter circuit in 20:40.5 on Sunday, giving her an eight-second cushion over second place. Her victory marked the first time since 1998, and the fifth time in school history, that a Michigan student-athlete took home the Big Ten women's individual title.
Wisconsin's Chris Solinsky and Illinois' Cassie Hunt garnered Men's and Women's Freshman of the Year honors, respectively, after becoming the first freshmen across the line in their Big Ten Championships races. Solinsky, a native of Stevens Point, Wis., took third overall with a time of 24:20.3 and finished just ahead of Penn State freshman Dan Mazzocco, who clocked in at 24:20.7. Solinsky is the third Badger in school history to earn Freshman of the Year honors. Hunt, who is from Roachdale, Ind., is the first Illinois cross country runner, male or female, to earn a Big Ten post-season individual honor since the award process began in 1987. She took 12th overall in the women's race and finished with a time of 21:36.9, setting a personal best by almost 30 seconds and recording the fifth-best six-kilometer result for an Illinois runner in school annals.
Jerry Schumacher earned the Big Ten Men's Cross Country Coach of the Year accolades for the fourth time in five seasons as the Wisconsin head coach. His Badgers packed three runners into the top 10 this year to tally a score of 40 points, marking the fifth consecutive Big Ten Championships in which UW has scored fewer than 50 points. As a head coach with the Badgers, he has instructed two different Freshman of the Year honorees as well as four different Big Ten men's individual champions who went on to take Athlete of the Year laurels.
Michigan's Mike McGuire was honored by his peers as the Women's Coach of the Year for the fifth time in his career. The Wolverines successfully defended their League title on Sunday, giving the 12th-year head coach his fifth Conference crown. With four runners in the top 10, Michigan tallied a score of 31 points, the lowest total for a Big Ten champion since 1999. The Maize and Blue have now finished in the top two at the League Championships 11 times under his tutelage.
WOMEN'S ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Rebecca Walter, Michigan
WOMEN'S FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR: Cassie Hunt, Illinois
WOMEN'S COACH OF THE YEAR: Mike McGuire, Michigan
MEN'S ATHLETE OF THE YEAR: Simon Bairu, Wisconsin
MEN'S FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR: Chris Solinsky, Wisconsin
MEN'S COACH OF THE YEAR: Jerry Schumacher, Wisconsin