MISSOULA — For the first time since 2009, Missoula is hosting the Big Sky Conference outdoor track and field championships.
With some well-timed redshirts, Montana’s athletes have built themselves toward being top contenders and are hoping to keep some more of the trophies in town after Erika McLeod and Brendan Thurber-Blaser won the women’s heptathlon and men’s decathlon on Thursday.
Ten other teams, including Montana State, will be looking to garner that hardware when the individual events begin at 9 a.m. Friday and run through Saturday at Dornblaser Field.
“The level of competition is already showing in the heptathlon,” Montana head coach Brian Schweyen said on Thursday. “I don’t recall that many females being over 5,000 points in the heptathlon in this conference. It shows how solid the competition is here. There are athletes at this meet from various schools that are sitting at the top or near the top in the nation in Division I. It’s packed with a lot of very incredible athletes."
Montana State track and field coach Lyle Weese is similarly excited about the high level of competition over the final two days.
“It’s a really exciting year,” Weese said. “There are some events that are really pretty strong. Overall, the conference in track and field just keeps improving and getting better and better. So, the level of competition in pretty much all events is going to be strong. In some events, it’ll be pretty spectacular."
Among the top competitors for the two Treasure State schools are Montana senior Hana Feilzer and Montana State freshman Duncan Hamilton. They're the only top seeds from either of the schools.
Feilzer, a Missoula Big Sky grad, enters with a conference-best hammer throw of 205 feet, 7 inches. That’s 11 feet, 1 inch clear of the second-place entrant, Eastern Washington’s Madison Doepker. Feilzer won the conference title in the hammer throw at the 2017 outdoor meet and comes in ranked 34th in the nation.
“She’s in a zone, and she is as comfortable as she’s ever been at competing,” Schweyen said. “Hana is going to do some spectacular things here in the next month starting this weekend. She’s setting herself up to go out on top and with a big bang.”
Hamilton, a Bozeman grad, comes in the with the top 3,000-meter steeplechase time in the conference at 9 minutes, 1.36 seconds. His closest competitor will be Northern Arizona’s Kyle Havriliak, whose best time is just 1.32 seconds slower than Hamilton. After that, there’s a drop-off of 13.34 seconds until the next-best time.
“He’s just a true freshman, but he’s a very mature kid, so it’s been exciting to see him,” Weese said. “He’s taken to the steeplechase right away, and he has a high level of fitness, but he’s also a really, really great hurdler. He just took to hurdling right away, so his efficiency over the hurdles combined with his fitness makes him really strong in the steeple.”
Weese added: “He never gets too high or too low. He does a great job of just staying level headed and not getting too excited about anything.”
Ten UM and MSU competitors are seeded second. On the track, those are Montana State’s Morgan Evans (Great Falls High) in the women’s 100-meter hurdles, Montana State’s Drake Schneider in the men’s 400-meter hurdles and Montana State’s Anna French in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase. Schneider won the conference title in the 400 hurdles last year. Montana’s 1,600-meter relay team of Paul Johnstone (Forsyth), Callum Macnab, Sterling Reneau (Missoula Sentinel) and Xavier Melice (Helena Capital) is also seeded second.
In field events, the second-seeded competitors for the Griz are Matt Quist (Kalispell Flathead) in the men’s high jump, Carla Nicosia (Columbia Falls) in the women’s triple jump, Jensen Lillquist in the men’s javelin throw and Brent Yeakey in the men’s shot put. Quist is a two-time runner-up in the high jump. Lillquist has won the javelin title twice and is attempting to become Montana’s first male three-time winner since Jas Gill in the high jump from 2003-05.
For Montana State, those seeded second in the field events are Wyatt Thompson-Siporen in the men’s pole vault and Alexander Lewis in the men’s long jump.
Five Montana State competitors enter their events with the third-best mark. Those are Truanne Roginske (Joliet) in the women’s 100, McKenna Ramsay in the women’s 400, Camila Noe (Bozeman) in the women’s 5,000 and Kelsi Lasota in the women’s 10,000. Also third is the Cats’ 1,600-meter relay team of Courtney Stromme (Belgrade), Haile Norred (Bigfork), Elisabeth Krieger and McKenna Ramsay.
Montana’s Olivia Ellis is the lone Griz seeded third in an event, and that’s in the women’s 400 hurdles.
The Northern Arizona men have captured six of the past seven team titles. The NAU women have won three consecutive titles.
Montana State’s men and women both finished in second place at the indoor conference championships the Bobcats hosted in Bozeman in February.
“On the men’s side, NAU’s going to be tough to bring down,” Schweyen said. “Championship meets, anything can happen. That’s why you come and compete because you never know.
“Women’s side, it’s going to be a battle. There’s a few schools that could make a run at that, and I think the University of Montana is one of those. It’s going to be pretty exciting watching it unfold in the next two days.”