First things first: Cato positions self for run at NCAA title


Cato

March 8, 2013

Results  |  Cato Reaction Small Video Graphic  |  Ziemek Reaction Small Video Graphic

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Japheth Cato didn’t reach the top of the mountain Friday, but the Wisconsin junior put himself in good position to finish the climb Saturday.

Cato finished the first day of the heptathlon at the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championships with a flurry, clearing 6 feet, 11 inches to tie for the win in the high jump and, more importantly, cut into the lead of homestanding Kevin Lazas.

The three-time defending Big Ten champion heads into the final day of competition in second place and trailing Lazas, the Arkansas junior, by 98 points.

“I knew I closed the gap a little bit,” Cato said of the high jump. “It got me closer, took 28 points off (the lead) for every jump, so it helped.”

Cato amassed a score of 3,351 points as the first four disciplines were contested, putting together the highest first-day total of his career.

The fact that Cato is ahead of the pace he used two weeks ago to set his lifetime-best and Big Ten-winning tally of 6,090 is important. That’s because this competition is almost guaranteed to be decided on the other side of the 6,100-point plateau -- a score that’s only been achieved seven times by a collegian.

Sophomore Zach Ziemek made it a very successful opening day for the Badgers by scoring personal-best marks in three events to put himself fifth in the standings with 3,246 points -- easily the highest-scoring opening day of his career.

Ziemek’s day began with a run of 7.01 seconds in the 60 meters, an effort that matches Cato’s mark from February for the fastest heptathlon 60 in UW history. He stayed hot in the long jump with a personal-best leap of 23-8 1/4 -- topping his previous best of 23-0 -- and finished strong with a clearance at 6-8 3/4 in the high jump that was just a quarter-inch off his career best.

“I had a solid day,” Ziemek said. “I wasn’t too nervous, but there’s always butterflies in the stomach.

“I’m sitting fifth right now, so I just need to go out there and try to PR in every event.”

Cato, conversely, stumbled out of the blocks and ran 7.08 in the 60. But he bounced back with his third-best long jump of the season -- and his second-best effort in a heptathlon – by leaping 25-2. The shot put set him back after he threw just 39-9 3/4, but Cato responded in the high jump with his 6-11 effort – and nearly cleared the next bar at 7-0 1/4.

“There was a couple spots I was hoping to pick up (some points),” Cato said. “High jump was the one that got me where I am now.

“If I just had an inch more height on the last bar, seven feet would have been mine.”

Cato then came back to the track about three hours later to finish 10th in the open long jump after leaping 24-7 3/4 on his first attempt.

Cato should pick up plenty of ground on Lazas when the competition resumes with the 60 hurdles Saturday morning. He has a lifetime best of 7.83 seconds, while Lazas’ best over the barriers is 8.35.

He’ll need to make the most of that opportunity, as Lazas is the only competitor in the field with a better mark than Cato in the pole vault. The fact that the pair have identical lifetime bests of 2:45 in the 1000 meters sets the stage for drama at the finish.

Plus, Lazas has the advantage of the home crowd cheering him on inside the Randal Tyson Track Center.

“I know a couple of my stronger events are tomorrow, but a couple of his stronger events are tomorrow, too,” Cato said. “I’ve just got to make sure I stay with him every step and do the best I can do.”

It’s a familiar position for Cato, who was second after the first day at last year’s NCAA meet and then worked his way into the lead with strong showings in the hurdles and vault on the second day of competition -- only to finish second thanks to the world record run by Duke’s Curtis Beach in the 1000 meters.

“I’m really excited,” Cato said. “It’s the second time I’ve been in this position, but I think this will be the first time where it will be a lot close than I (thought) it could be.”

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