It’s a good thing young soccer player Morgan McDonald discovered serious running at age 16 in his native Australia, and then learned that he was pretty good at it. That commitment to the sport paid off handsomely at the NCAA Cross when the fifth-year Wisconsin senior outsprinted another former soccer star, Stanford’s Grant Fisher, to win his first collegiate title.
“I committed to taking running seriously when I was about 16,” McDonald recalled. “I’d been doing it before but was more of a soccer player up to that point. It was around that age when I really got more into it and realized where running could take me. I put a lot more structure into my training, goal-setting and planning.”
He said his story proves how believing in himself made a dream come true. “It is crazy to think back to my 16-year-old self and see such long-time goals come to fruition,” he said. “I wanted to come to America and run. It was at 16 that I reached out to some coaches although I wasn’t quick enough to get proper attention, but I would say that I still had those aspirations.”
He also said continuing the Wisconsin tradition was important to him, citing ’85 winner Tim Hacker, father of his teammate Olin, as a valued mentor. “He always has good advice and is such an awesome person. To be able to win at home, with so many guys I’ve looked up to there watching, made it that much more special.”
The home course, of course, made for a comfortable race for McDonald as did the whole atmosphere. “I think it just allowed me to be a bit more relaxed throughout the race,” he explained. “I didn’t have to have that intensity of trying to think too much about where I was going to go because I knew it so well and I think that in the end that paid off when I had a bit more energy left.
“The whole environment out there was just crazy for a cross country race. The course was looking so pretty with the snow. The whole race on either side was packed with Badger fans just yelling out my name and supporting the Badgers. It was really amazing! I felt it the whole way.”
The 22-year-old called the win his career highlight: “Right now I’d say it’s the top of the list. I consider myself so lucky to be given the opportunity to come over from Australia and be at a place like this and travel around the country and meet amazing people. When I look back this season the great moments with the team stand out.”
Of course, he still has the ’19 track season ahead before his collegiate career is over, with the 3K indoors and 5K outdoors his likely focus. “I’m doing everything I can for this program to try and put my name up there,” he said. “Getting that individual title, not too many people have done that, but I hope to still do a bit more through track season. Then when I’m done, we’ll see where the dust settles.” □