(Editor’s note: story by Montana Sports Information)
MISSOULA – Montana upped its competitive drive and found its Championship form in its final meet of the regular season. Friday’s Tom Gage Classic – featuring athletes from Carroll, Eastern Washington, Idaho, Montana State and Montana Western – came just four days before the start of next week’s Big Sky Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships.
“We had a ton of really good performances, a lot of lifetime bests,” head coach Brian Schweyen said. “It seemed like every time I turned around we had a PR. That, moving into next week, is huge because we need some kids to step up, and I think we had that happen today.”
Among the standouts were several UM athletes expected to score highly at next week’s conference meet. Sophomore Jane Booth (women’s high jump), sophomore Holly Houston (women’s discus), junior Jensen Lillquist (men’s javelin) and sophomore Zena Smith (women’s javelin) each won their respective events with season-best performances. All four rank in the top two in the Big Sky this season.
Booth established a season best for the second consecutive meet, also tying her career best. Her height of 5-9.25 ranks second in the Big Sky this season and is within a half inch of the leader. Booth, who finished third at last year’s Championships, surpassed her previous season high by 3.5 inches on Friday.
Houston won the discus for the fifth time in six meets this season, but Friday was different. She won the event by more than 16 feet and posted a career best by more than two. Her mark is the second-best in the Big Sky this season.
Smith will also enter the Championships among the favorites to win her respective event. She entered last week’s Griz-Cat Dual as the Big Sky leader before Montana State’s Carley Vonheeder surpassed her with a throw of 156-3. Smith got revenge on Friday, besting the Bobcat by more than 10 feet with a mark of 156-8. Smith is the leader heading into next week’s Championships.
Montana will have the chance to compete for conference titles in both the women’s and men’s javelin thanks to Lillquist, who also had his best throw of the season on Friday (222-2).
Lillquist already had the second-best mark in the Big Sky this season, but his throw on Friday was a season best by more than 10 feet and put him in line with where he was two years ago – before injury wiped out his 2017 season – when he won the event as a sophomore in 2016 and placed 14th at regionals. Friday’s mark was within a foot of his PR.
Depth in the javelin continues to be a strength for the Grizzlies. Freshman Will Jones finished third with a PR of 189-4. John Beckers, also a freshman, was fourth at 180-0. The trio of Montana throwers rank in the top 10 in the Big Sky.
The performances by the quartet of top athletes was nice, but more importantly was their consistency.
“We preach consistency,” Schweyen said. “Anyone can have a great day, but can you repeat it? If you can repeat consistency you have the chance to do something special, and we’re starting to see that in our athletes.”
Three of Smith’s throws were above her previous lifetime bests, while two of Houston’s were. The four have now won their events a combined total of 17 times (out of 24 opportunities) this spring.
• Senior Madison Neufeld won the women’s triple jump for the third time this season and second week in a row. Her mark of 37-8.5 tied a season high.
• In his final meet at Dornblaser Field, senior Nathan Wellington won the men’s steeplechase with a season-best time of 9:45.86. Fellow senior Nick Jackson also had a season best in the hammer throw (175-8).
• Sophomore Noah Kells not only had a PR in the men’s 800 meters, but did so by nearly 3 seconds, running a 1:53.71 and placing fourth.
• Freshman Brent Yeakey continued his steady progression with a PR in both the men’s shot put (53-9.75) and discus (156-3). He placed second out of 21 throwers in the shot and sixth out of 19 in the discus.
• Sophomore Hannah Coburn won the women’s 100-meter hurdles with a time of 14.67 – two-hundredths of a second off her PR.
• Junior Charlie Bush won the men’s pole vault with a mark of 14-11. Sophomore Grant Whitcutt placed third (14-5.25) while sophomore Morgan Eitel was sixth with a PR of 12-0.
• Freshman Jaree Mane earned personal bests in all three events she competed in: 34-7 in the shot put, 124-1 in the javelin and 4-9.5 in the high jump. Freshman Mattison McAnally had a pair of PRs: 27.33 in the 200 meters and 1:01.57 in the 400 meters.
• Other personal bests included: Noah Adams (1:54.13 in the 800 meters); Jenna Dukovcic (31-8.5 in the shot put); Oliver Grajeda (49-2.5 in the shot put); Nathan Graves (125-2 in the discus); Mariah Hinson (114-5 in the javelin); Kyle Kredo (4:00.72 in the 1,500 meters); Karsten Pease (51.34 in the 400 meters); Kyle Peterson (4:14.44 in the 1,500 meters);
On Friday afternoon, Montana celebrated the careers of 15 seniors who were participating in their final meet at Dornblaser Field: Paden Alexander, Jakob Alme, Dominique Bobo, Emily Cheroske, Micah Drew, Dukovcic, Rosa Hardarson, Jackson, Neufeld, Peter Sirmon, Alanna Vann, Arielle Walden, Jordon Wallin and Wellington.
Montana will now set its roster for next week’s Championships, which will begin Tuesday in Moscow, Idaho.
“I think we have an incredible coaching staff, all the way down to (athletic trainer) Drew Babcock keeping kids healthy and (strength coach) Brandon Ronan in the weight room,” Schweyen said. “I can’t give enough credit to him and what he does to get our kids strong and healthy. We just have a great coaching staff, and that’s put us in a good spot entering next week.”