MISSOULA — With cloudy skies and a slight wind keeping the air crisp, a light rain began to fall on the track and field athletes who were warming up or competing during Friday's leg of the Al Manuel Northwest Invite at Dornblaser Field.
The women's hammer throw finalists were prepping for their final three throws, but the ring was wet enough to cause some of the throwers to slip. So some switched from their throwing shoes to regular tennis shoes while attendants dried the ring.
One of those throwers was Montana redshirt senior Hana Feilzer who is just one month removed from an indoor track & field season where she won the weight throw at the Big Sky Conference championships. Friday was no different for Feilzer, whose first throw of the day went 58.10 meters (or 190.62 feet), good enough to give her a victory in the hammer throw to begin her final outdoor college season.
Friday's rain wasn't a surprise for Feilzer and Co. She said she's probably practiced outside only five times so far due to the weather of late, but the team has found ways to transition from the weight throw to the hammer in different ways while working out indoors.
So after switching to her tennis shoes at first, Feilzer went back to her throwing shoes and finished with another toss that went just over 56 meters to cap off her day, despite having the win already sealed.
"We couldn't even get out here until last week where we were trudging through snow to go get our hammers and do all of that stuff," Feilzer said. "So it's kind of a crazy transition going from that."
Feilzer, a 2014 Big Sky High School grad, has been dealing with Montana's winter-like springs her entire life.
But she added with a big laugh, "But it never gets any easier."
Despite dealing with limited practices and poor weather, Feilzer said she was pleased with how things went right away. Only the men's and women's hammer throws occurred Friday with the rest of the meet scheduled for Saturday.
Feilzer's winning throw was actually the very first throw of the day. Being her first meet of the year and because she didn't have a mark from last season, she was the first to go. So right away the rest of the field was playing catch-up.
"Going out there, throwing that, then sitting here and waiting for an hour, then re-warming up, then it rains, then trying a shoe change was all just kind of crazy," she said. "I was happy that I was able to go out there with that last throw be a 56 so I was still up there.
"With the circumstances, pretty good start."
Feilzer last competed in the hammer throw in 2017 when she won her first conference crown and advanced to the NCAA outdoor regionals for the second time in her career while also setting the school record with a toss of 206-3. But she opted to redshirt the entirety of last indoor and outdoor season, and after a strong indoor campaign, is aiming to finish off her career on top once again.
Waiting was a challenge, but it strengthened her in other aspects of her game.
"The redshirt season was hard," Feilzer said. "It really helps with mental toughness. It's been interesting because there's a lot of things that have changed since I was throwing. New people to look out for. But I think it definitely helped with that mental toughness aspect because I'm able to sit here and know what I need to do to compete."
She dealt with a back injury in October that forced her to miss about a month of practice. She's also had issues with her shoulder at times. So making sure she stays healthy down the stretch is another focus and not overdo it, especially this early in the season.
"We've just been kind of working on little technical things," Montana throws coach David Paul said. "I don't think her confidence is the issue or athleticism. Just technical stuff. It's still pretty early in the season for her. We just need to throw more outside."
Some of those technical details include relaxing more and not forcing the throw. Paul said he saw those positive changes begin to occur as the indoor season went on.
Her official personal record is 206-3, but during her redshirt season, she said she threw 211-9. Her goal this season is reaching the 215 to 220 range and winning the conference title again when the outdoor championships are held in front of the home crowd in Missoula May 8-11.
"I think that's pretty doable. It's up to her. She's got that on her mind and that's great," Paul said. "She just has to keep doing what she's doing and make it happen."
She's already finished her degree in sociology with an emphasis in criminology and inequality and social justice. Currently she's working on completing her minor in psychology. And with her final opening track meet in the books, it's all about progression and improvement on the road back to the conference title and beyond.
"It's crazy to think that this is almost done," Feilzer said. "I obviously want to go out with a bang."