GENEVA, Ohio – It wasn’t decided until the final event, but Wisconsin head coach Ed Nuttycombe was able to breathe a sigh of victorious relief Saturday afternoon at the SPIRE Institute in Geneva, Ohio.
In a meet that saw the top five teams separated by a mere five points, the No. 10 Badgers’ men’s track and field team emerged winner of the team title in the 2013 Big Ten Indoor Track Championships.
The indoor title is UW’s first since 2008.
“The first thing was that it came down to the last event, d?j? vu all over again,” Nuttycombe said in reference to his team’s close victory in the 2012 Big Ten Outdoor Championship. “The results were the same as far as us winning, the way it went down was a little different.”
But, things were a little different in the way UW was able to seal the title.
Heading into the final event, the 4×400-meter relay, Wisconsin held a 1.5 point lead over Illinois. Then, the shocker of the meet occurred, as the Illini struggled on their final exchange and their last runner tripped up on the final lap and did not finish the race, sealing the victory for the Badgers.
It was a race that left many, including Nuttycombe, speechless, especially because Wisconsin finished only eighth in the final event.
“I was stunned,” Nuttycombe said. “I honestly did not know what to say the first few minutes after the race.”
Pacing the Badgers winning 90-point team total was the heptathlon combination of All-American junior Japheth Cato and sophomore Zach Ziemek, placing No. 1 and No. 2 at the event. Cato shattered his Big Ten record by posting a 6,090-point performance, while Ziemek trailed by posting his own impressive tally of 5,846, earning him a second team all-Big Ten honor.
With the win, Cato becomes the Big Ten’s second ever three-time winner in the heptathlon. The total mark by the Wisconsin junior also ranks as the second best by an American and fourth best in the world so far this year.
Cato was powered to the title by wins in the events 60-meter dash, long jump, 60-meter hurdles and pole vault while placing fourth in the high jump.
“I came here with the determination of just simply coming here to win,” Cato said. “Halfway through it, right after high jump, I thought ‘Man, I just might go for it, you know?’ I only have a couple of these [heptathlons] my whole entire life so it’s all or nothing.
“Go big or go home.”
Ziemek’s performance was special as well, as the sophomore finished with his personal-best performance and the No. 5 mark in the NCAA this season, finishing in the exact place in the indoor championships he had strived for.
“I really wanted to take second place because Cato is amazing and I know I couldn’t take first,” Ziemek said. “I really wanted to help out the team this year.”
Besides the dominating Wisconsin performances in the heptathlon, the Badgers were buoyed by individual championships from junior Danny Block in the shot put – with a throw of 19.4 meters – and Maverick Darling in the 3,000-meter run, who set a meet record with a time of 7:50.97.
Sophomore Austin Mudd finished second in the 800-meter run, missing first by just tenths of a second to Penn State’s Brannon Kidder.
Canadian Olympic runner and Wisconsin senior Mohammed Ahmed also contributed in a big way by placing second in the 5,000-meter run with Darling placing third behind him.
But the contributions in the 5,000-meter run didn’t stop there, as seniors Elliot Krause and Brian Leung also finished sixth and seventh, helping the Badgers rack up 19 points in the event, one which Nuttycombe says “we hang our program and our success in that area.”
“We needed at least 17 points out of the 5K,” senior captain Grant Bughman said. “Guys stepped up when they needed to and, at the end of the day, all that mattered was getting that stick around the track. Sometimes that’s all it takes.”
The championship was the 26th for the Badgers under Nuttycombe and the program’s 17th since 2000, reaffirming the Badgers’ track and field program as a conference dynasty.
“Just like Mav and I talked about the day before with a bunch of the guys when we met, all you have to do is focus on your job, and that’s what everyone did,” Bughman said. “As long as everyone performs when they need to, you might get a little luck to go your way, and we did what we came here to do.”
All quotes courtesy of UW Athletics Communications