On a pedestal: Badgers put together NCAA finish worth admiring


Third-place team

March 9, 2013

Results  |  Nuttycombe Small Video Graphic  |  Cato Small Video Graphic  |  Ziemek Small Video Graphic  |  Mudd Small Video Graphic

FAYTETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Wisconsin spent two days grabbing every point it could.

When the opportunity to take home a trophy presented itself, the Badgers grabbed that, too.

Fourth-ranked Wisconsin emerged as the third-place team Saturday at the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championships, returning to the podium for the third time in nine years behind three All-America performances on the meet’s final day.

Record-setting showings in the heptathlon and a gutsy run in the mile helped UW finish with a score of 33 points to claim third behind champion Arkansas (74 points) and runner-up Florida (59).

The Badgers had only seven athletes on hand to hoist the trophy, something that made their finish that much more impressive.

“It is amazing when you bring that few and you are that consistent with everybody hitting, but that’s what you have to do,” UW head coach Ed Nuttycombe said. “It’s a super-highly competitive setting and you just have to rise to the occasion and, fortunately, all seven of the guys did.

“I am very, very proud of them.”

The four Badgers that competed Saturday gave their coach plenty to be proud of, including the runner-up and fifth-place efforts in the heptathlon by junior Japheth Cato and sophomore Zach Ziemek and the third-place run by sophomore Austin Mudd in the mile.

Cato
Cato needed to put a five-second gap on Lazas (background) and nearly did just that in the heptathlon 1000 meters.

Cato finished runner-up for second-consecutive year in the heptathlon, scoring a career-best total of 6,165 points that ranks him No. 4 all-time among collegians.

Arkansas’ Kevin Lazas won the national title with 6,175 points, with the 10-point winning margin supplanting last year’s 56-point gap as the closest finish in NCAA history.

That wasn’t the type of record Cato was looking to break. Neither was the one he set for the highest non-winning score in NCAA meet history, breaking the mark of 6,082 he established last year.

Still, Cato could take plenty of pride in becoming the first collegian to top 6,000 points four times in a career. Entering the weekend, there had been just 13 scores of 6,000-plus in NCAA history. Over his last six heptathlons, Cato has topped that plateau four times while averaging 6,033 points per competition.

For his career, Cato owns three of the top 11 marks in collegiate history.

“I broke my own record for the highest non-winning score,” Cato said, chuckling. “I’m proud of myself and I’m proud of our team.”

The difference between the top two was literally less than a second in the final event of the seven-discipline competition, the 1000 meters. While Cato kicked in to run a personal-best 2:45.26, Lazas struggled to the finish, stumbling down the homestretch and falling across the line.

By staying on his feet through the finish line, though, Lazas clocked in at 2:49.00 and kept Cato from building the cushion of approximately five seconds he needed to claim the title.

“I commend Kevin Lazas for what he did,” Cato said. “It’s big. He’s a big man.”

Ziemek
Ziemek didn't even hit the ground before celebrating his clearance at 17-8 1/2 to tie the collegiate record.

So was Ziemek, who earned All-America honors in his first NCAA championships appearance by scoring a personal-best 5,937 points.

The highlight -- both for Ziemek’s score and for the spectators who watched what may have been the best heptathlon pole vault competition ever -- came when he posted a massive lifetime best and matched the collegiate record in the heptathlon vault by clearing 17 feet, 8 1/2 inches on his third and final attempt at the height.

Not bad for someone who entered the competition with a personal best of 16-10 3/4. He emerged as just the fifth American to clear 17-8 1/2 in a heptathlon.

“I was feeling it,” Ziemek said. “I was just going for it all, so I can’t complain. 5.40 (meters)? It was amazing.”

Ziemek then narrowly missed three tries at 18-0 3/4, which would have broken the American record in the heptathlon vault.

Beyond its status in the vault as a heptathlon discipline, Ziemek’s effort smashed the Badgers’ overall school record in the pole vault and ranks as the best mark ever by a UW athlete, indoors or outdoors.

Cato also set a lifetime best in the vault by dramatically clearing 17-4 1/2 on his third and final attempt, but Lazas matched Ziemek’s collegiate-record effort at the next bar to build a 50-point cushion heading into the final event.

It proved to be just enough for the Razorback to hold off Cato’s charge in the 1000 meters.

Mudd
Exactly a week after racing his way into the NCAA field, Mudd once again used his stellar kick to score a third-place finish in 3:57.93.

While impressive, Cato’s kick still had nothing on the one Mudd would lay down later in the evening.

The sophomore known to his teammates as “Joe Dirt” was certainly gritty in the fastest mile in NCAA meet history and used his signature kick to race into third place and six all-important team points.

Mudd’s lifetime-best and school-record effort of 3:57.93 made him the fifth Badger to earn All-America honors in the mile, and the third to score a top-five finish.

He also became the second man in the world this year to break the four-minute barrier in the mile three times. He joined former Badger Craig Miller -- the last UW runner to earn All-America laurels in the mile from his runner-up finish in 2009 -- with that distinction.

Stanford’s Tyler Stutzman made it three in that small club less than two seconds later by finishing fourth behind Mudd in 3:59.70.

In seventh place with three laps to go and sixth with two circuits remaining, Mudd kicked it into high gear once again down the stretch, splitting 55.56 seconds for the final 400 meters. Still, there was no catching Lawi Lalang of Arizona, who won the race in a remarkable meet-record time of 3:54.74.

“The first 800 I was just trying to stay in the top three,” Mudd said. “Lawi, he was up there and was taking it out pretty hard, so I was just trying to sit back. I got passed by quite a few around 800 (meters), and that’s when I really decided to get going.

“I just didn’t look back from there.”

The sophomore, competing in just his fourth collegiate mile, now owns three of the top five marks in school history.

His real contribution to UW’s history, though, was the six points he scored.

“Those thoughts were definitely going through my head the entire race,” he said. “It is so much easier to run when I’m running for my teammates.

“I really don’t want to let them down at all because I know they aren’t going to let me down.”

Senior captain Maverick Darling took the same team-first mindset into the 3000 meters, looking to double back and score again for the Badgers after taking All-America honors with a fourth-place finish in the 5000 meters on Friday.

He didn’t manage to score additional points, finishing 10th in 7:58.43, but the gesture wasn’t lost on his teammates.

It was the Badgers’ team effort that most impressed Nuttycombe, who put a group on the NCAA podium for the fourth time in his illustrious career.

“This was probably the most consistent across the board, seven guys, all seven getting the job done,” Nuttycombe said when asked to compare this group’s effort to those of his previous podium teams. “All opportunities we had, we took advantage of.  

“Couldn’t be any happier.”

Happy? Yes. Content? Not according to the Badgers’ plans for the outdoor season.

“Keep the momentum going,” Cato said of the team’s outdoor goals. “We’ve got to go back to Wisconsin and tell everybody that this is serious.

“We’re trying to go after something big, and we’re going now.”

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