(Editor’s note: University of Montana media release)
OGDEN, Utah – It has been 566 days since Erika McLeod had competed in a track meet for her Montana Grizzlies.
In mid-May 2017, the do-it-all Griz athlete scored in three separate events at the Big Sky Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Three months prior, at the indoor championships, she scored in four events, including winning the pentathlon and setting a school record in the 4×400 relay. Out of every athlete across every Big Sky school, it was McLeod who earned the title of Outstanding Performer.
Now, after redshirting a year ago, McLeod is back, and wasted no time returning to top form. Competing in the Candy Cane XI meet in Cheney, Wash., McLeod won the 55-meter hurdles (8.32 seconds) and took second in the long jump (18-6.5). Her performance in the pentathlon, though, was the most impressive.
In the 11-year history of the Candy Cane meet, no athlete had ever scored as high as McLeod’s 3,891 points. Even more remarkable, in more than 42 years of competition inside the Jim Thorpe Fieldhouse, no athlete had ever reached her total. Her performance earned her Big Sky Conference Women’s Field Athlete of the Week honors.
“Erika is an incredible athlete, and I think, after redshirting last year, she took full advantage of her year and was hungry to be back,” head coach Brian Schweyen said. “It’s harder to have a purpose when you’re redshirting, but I think she’s self-motivated enough, and has big enough goals, that she stayed motivated and trained hard.”
Of the five events in the pentathlon, McLeod won four of them, recording a time of 8.33 seconds in the 55-meter hurdles, a height of 5-6 in the high jump (career best), a mark of 19-1.25 feet in the long jump and a time of 2:25.14 in the 800 meters.
To say McLeod was itching to get back on the track after redshirting in 2018 is an understatement.
“It felt right being back,” McLeod said. “Redshirting is a blessing in a lot of ways, because it’s easy to sometimes take for granted getting to represent the University of Montana. I take a lot of pride in wearing ‘Montana’ so it was special to get to do that again.”
It’s also an understatement to say that her team was eager to have her return, as well. The Butte native is a two-time Big Sky Conference Outstanding Performer and was the Most Valuable Athlete at the 2016 indoor meet, an award which goes to the athlete who scores the most points. Across both indoor and outdoor seasons, McLeod is a six-time all-conference performer, winning four individual titles. The psychology major was named the Big Sky Conference Athlete of the Week once as a sophomore, during the 2016 outdoor season.
Despite all of that, she’s hungry for more. During the 2017 outdoor championships – the final meet she competed in prior to last weekend, and the same one she scored in three events – she also walked away with a bitter taste. She recorded a no height in the high jump and was unable to defend her title in the heptathlon.
“Last year I was more motivated and focused than I’ve ever been, and that hasn’t wavered,” McLeod said. “Hands down, I want to win a conference championship. That’s been in my mind since the end of my junior year, when we finished second at both indoor and outdoor, and I think this whole team is motivated to make it happen.”
With that motivation, despite everything she’s already accomplished, she may just be scratching the surface.
“As good as last weekend was,” Schweyen said,” if you asked her, I don’t think she was completely satisfied. She wants more, and I think she has it in her.”