Jan. 18, 2014
MADISON, Wis. -- After eight months and 22 days, Japheth Cato is back.
The senior, competing in his first meet since rupturing his Achilles tendon on a routine approach in the pole vault at the Brutus Hamilton Invitational last April, notched a pair of victories in the pole vault and high jump to score 10 points and help the No. 4-ranked Wisconsin men’s track and field team defeat Missouri, 86-61, in a dual meet Saturday at the Camp Randall Memorial Sports Center (The Shell).
“It was a little difficult last year hurting it outside, (I) didn’t get to finish my outdoor season,” Cato said. “But it means a lot to me right now to get back on the track. I worked real hard all offseason -- it was a real mental and physical struggle -- but I feel good.”
Cato began the day by winning the vault with a clearance of 16 feet, 4 3/4 inches and followed up his performance with another victory in the high jump, leaping 6-11, just half an inch from tying his personal best in the event.
“It is real courageous,” Wisconsin Director of Track & Field and Cross Country Mick Byrne said. “Cato has worked his rear end off over the last six months. Having him out here today, you see the energy he brings, he gets the rest of the team all excited and wound up.
“As we go forward into February and Big Ten competition, having Cato back is fantastic.”
But the Crete, Ill., native and decorated heptathlete is the first to admit he has a lot of work left to do before he can perform at the level he demands of himself.
“I’m not exactly 100 percent, but I’m definitely back to where I can compete at a high level,” Cato said. “Obviously I want to be at 100 percent by championship time, but it is just going to take a couple more races, a couple more reps and we will see where we are at.”
Cato’s goal following his injury was to return to action by the start of the indoor season.
“This is a big mental victory right now,” Cato said. “Just being able to come out here and compete against my own teammates and a Mizzou team that did fabulous today. It is a good feeling.”
The Badgers won 11 of 15 events -- four field events and seven on the track -- in the program’s first dual meet since 1988 against Tennessee.
Junior Scott Erickson claimed victory for UW in the weight throw with a heave of 60-0 1/2, while teammates Andrew Bartsch finished second with a personal-best 55-9 3/4 and Andrew Brekke placed third (55-7 3/4).
In the shot put, Brekke earned the win by tossing 51-0, while freshman Brad Bernarde set a personal record of his own with a heave of 47-11 3/4, good for third place.
Like Cato, senior Babatunde Awosika scored 10 points for UW by claiming victories in both the 200 and 400 meters by crossing the finish line in 21.72 and 49.04 seconds, respectively.
Junior Matt Widule won the 60 hurdles in 8.33 seconds, while a pair of freshmen claimed victory in distance events. Freshman Carl Hirsch was the first to cross the line in the mile (4:10.37), while Malachy Schrobilgen, the reigning Big Ten cross country champion, earned the title in the 3000 meters (8:17.69).
Wisconsin closed the meet with victories in both relays, as the Badgers won the distance medley (10:23.78) and the 4x400 (3:21.67). Of the eight UW athletes competing in the relays, six were freshmen: Hirsch, Michael Christianson, Justin Rabon, Ryan Davis, Shawn Michels and Zach Reitzug.
Byrne was pleased with the way the underclassman performed Saturday, noting that the dual meet provided them with an opportunity to compete and gain valuable experience as the season progresses.
“When you see so many young kids getting out there and performing, they are not worrying about times or distance, it is about wearing the uniform and competing and scoring points,” Byrne said. “Again, I think it is great for the kids down the road, moving forward, they have a lot of confidence. It is about competition, and the kids really embraced that, and that is fantastic.”