ALBUQUERQUE -- Michael Lihrman has had better throws, but he's never had a better day.
The Wisconsin junior, carrying the weight of the top-seeded athlete in the weight throw, lived up to his billing and finished the latest chapter in a remarkable rise in the two seasons he's spent in Madison.
Lihrman didn't top his Division I record throw of 79 feet, 7 1/2 inches, but he did top the 15 men who lined up to knock him off by putting together the best series of his career to win the national title at the 2014 NCAA Indoor Championships inside the Albuquerque Convention Center.
He posted five of the top six overall marks in the competition, essentially winning the meet with a throw of 76 feet, 1 3/4 inches on his second attempt before finishing his coronation with a mark of 76-3 1/2 on his final heave.
Of course, "heave" is a term that has no place in any description of Lihrman's technique. As has become his trademark, Lihrman's biggest throws were the ones that looked as though they required the least amount of effort.
"It's his understanding of the event," UW assistant coach Dave Astrauskas said of what makes Lihrman so technically sound. "He has a great feel for body position and adjusting to what he needs to do on each throw."
Of Lihrman's six attempts in the competition, four sailed beyond the 23-meter mark. Only five other men in the world have a throw of 23 meters this year, a list to which Nick Miller of Oklahoma State added his name by finishing runner-up to Lihrman at 75 feet, 8 1/4 inches (23.07m).
"Everything was very, very close," Lihrman said. "We threw for about an hour and a half and I was getting tired. Those last two throws, I was trying to get myself angry. On that last throw, I was shocked myself.
"You want to throw as far as possible on the last one and usually what happens is you pull on it or do something wrong, but I ended up throwing just fine and I was pretty happy with it."
Lihrman's title is the 13th all-time for the Badgers at the NCAA indoor meet, the most of any Big Ten program, and the first since Chris Solinsky won the 5000 meters to help UW claim the team title in 2007. The only other Badger to win an NCAA indoor crown in a field event was former world record-holder Pat Matzdorf, who struck gold in the high jump in 1971.
A year ago, Lihrman came to the Albuquerque Convention Center after redshirting the collegiate season -- his first at Wisconsin -- and competed in a Badgers uniform for the first time. He promptly shattered UW's school record with a throw of 68-5 3/4.
Including his return to Albuquerque on Friday, he topped that effort six times this season. He now owns the top seven marks in school history. To Lihrman, it's all happened so fast.
"Not this soon, definitely not this soon," he said. "Maybe I was thinking about throwing this far next year."
His first indoor season for the Badgers in the books, Lihrman will turn his attention to the hammer throw when UW begins its outdoor campaign next weekend in Florida.
But he won't forget about the weight throw. Far from it.
"I never expected to come this far this fast," Lihrman said. "I keep waiting for my plateau and I've never hit it yet. Who knows what's coming up.
"I'm thinking I'm going for the world record next year."
The Badgers got another team point from senior Reed Connor, who rallied for an All-America finish in the 5000 meters. After slipping back in the pack, Connor -- owner of the nation's top time this season -- made a late-race charge to grab eighth place in 14 minutes, 9.20 seconds. Fellow senior Mohammed Ahmed ran second to race favorite Lawi Lalang in the early going but dropped back quickly and finished 14th in 14:50.11.
Oregon's Edward Cheserek upset Lalang, the six-time national champion, by running 13:46.67 to take the win. Lalang finished in 13:52.83.
Ziemek in the mix, Cato out of heptathlon
Zach Ziemek made a fantastic first impression on his competitors in the heptathlon Friday. The UW junior opened the seven-event competition by winning the 60 meters in a lifetime-best time of 6.90 seconds, breaking his own school record in the event (6.91) in the process.
The performance gave Ziemek the overall lead after just one event and he was strong enough in the events that followed -- the long jump, shot put and high jump -- to post the second-best Day 1 score of his career with 3,296 points.
That score has him fourth in the standings with three events to be contested Saturday. Georgia's Maicel Uibo holds the lead at 3,358 points, with defending champion Kevin Lazas of Arkansas second at 3,315 and 2012 champ Curtis Beach of Duke third at 3,310.
Ziemek briefly put himself to second on the leaderboard by clearing 6 feet, 8 inches in the high jump, but Beach got over 6-9 and Uibo broke the meet record by clearing 6-11 1/2 to drop him back to fourth.
The final day of competition, comprised of the 60 hurdles, pole vault and 1000 meters, promises to be an exciting one. Lazas and Ziemek battled to a tie in the vault at last year's NCAA meet, matching the collegiate record in the event at 17-8 1/2. In 2012, Beach broke former Badger Joe Detmer's world record in the heptathlon 1000 by clocking in at 2:23.63.
Japheth Cato's quest to win an elusive national title came to a disappointing end when he failed to clear his opening height of 6-5 1/2 in the high jump. The senior was just 21 points off the pace of his runner-up performance from 2013 before the no-height dropped him out of contention for a third-straight All-America performance in the event.
It was surprising for an athlete who owns an impressive lifetime-best clearance of 7-2 1/2 and -- until Friday, when Uibo and three other competitors topped his mark -- held the NCAA meet record in the event at 6-11.
One look at Cato's badly-swollen right ankle put the setback in perspective, however. Though he's had a remarkable recovery from the ruptured Achilles tendon he suffered just over 10 months ago, his body wouldn't let him compete at the elite level to which he's become accustomed, even this season in the midst of his comeback.
Just two weeks ago, he became the first athlete to win four Big Ten titles in the heptathlon. He also set a school record in the pole vault by clearing 18-2 1/2 in February.
Now, that event will be his focus. The Badgers are in contention for a second-consecutive podium finish as a team and will look for points from Cato in the open pole vault on Saturday.
Regardless of Friday's result, Cato will go down as one of the best collegiate heptathletes of all time. He was twice the NCAA runner-up -- each time setting a record for the closest finish in history -- and is the only collegian to score 6,000 points four times.
"I'm disappointed, but I'm OK," Cato said. "Look, I made it here to Albuquerque. I've had a great season. We didn't know if any of this was even going to be possible (after the injury).
"Now, it's all about supporting Zach and trying to score some points in the vault."
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