(Editor’s note: University of Montana press release)
BOZEMAN – Montana opened Day 1 of the Big Sky Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships about as good as anyone could have imagined, with Erika McLeod and Jansen Ziola finishing first and second, respectively, in the women’s pentathlon.
McLeod not only won the event for the third time in her illustrious career but was record breaking. Her score of 4,128 set a school, Big Sky Championships and Big Sky Conference record.
“It’s such a special feeling,” McLeod said. “Truthfully, one of my proudest accomplishments is representing the University of Montana. I have incredible coaches who are great mentors, and I’m so lucky and grateful for my experiences. I just wanted to soak every bit of it in and have fun today.”
Her score puts her in the top 10 nationally entering the weekend, giving her a shot at qualifying for the NCAA Championships, which will take place next month.
McLeod was dominant on Thursday, but so was her sophomore teammate, who showed she is ready to take over for McLeod when she graduates this year, as McLeod did for three-time champion Lindsey Hall in 2015.
Ziola won both the 60-meter hurdles and 800 meters to finish in second place. Her score of 3,925 was nearly 300 points higher than her total from a year ago – when she won the event. It was just 44 points away from Montana’s school record entering the day and was the seventh-best score in Big Sky Conference history. In 12 of the past 15 Championships, her score would have won the event.
“A lot of people come to college as good athletes but not necessarily good multi-performers, but Jansen came in seasoned in the multis,” Schweyen said of Ziola. “She’s not afraid and she doesn’t back down at any point. She brought her game and we’re lucky to have her for several more years.”
McLeod won the pentathlon title in 2016 and 2017 before redshirting in 2018. Early on Thursday, she showed she would be tough to beat. The senior finished second in the first event, the 60-meter hurdles, only trailing Ziola. Her time of 8.68 was a career best.
“After the hurdles I felt really good,” McLeod said of her first event. “From then I just tried to stay focused and kept rolling.”
McLeod then finished tied for first in the high jump (PR 5-8) before winning the shot put (PR 34-4.25).
Already with the lead, McLeod put the competition out of reach with a first-place finish in the long jump (PR 19-4), nearly a foot better than the next competitor. She closed the meet out by taking a large lead in the 800 meters and ultimately finishing second to Ziola (2:21.62).
“Every step (of the 800) I had nationals on my mind. That was the goal,” McLeod said of her final event. “I was hoping my time would be faster, but I went as hard as I could and I’m extremely proud.”
McLeod finished first or second in all five events, setting four personal bests.
“There’s a small handful of athletes who can say they’re a three-time champion in the same event, and hold a conference record,” Schweyen said of McLeod. “That just goes to show that Erika is a determined, hard-working individual who has set incredible goals for herself, and she isn’t afraid of putting in the work.”
In addition to her wins in the 60-meter hurdles (PR 8.50) and 800 meters (PR 2:19.99), Ziola placed second in the long jump (PR 18-11.25). She also had career-best performances in the high jump (5-5.75) and shot put (30-7.5).
In addition to McLeod and Ziola, Jaree Mane finished in 12th place, scoring 3,289 points. The score was the best of her career, thanks to PRs in the 60-meter hurdles (9.38), long jump (16-6.5) and 800 meters (2:28.63). She also threw the shot 35-7.75 feet, good for fifth place out of the 17 participants.
On the men’s side, Aidan Diggs and Josh Riley competed in the first four events of the heptathlon. Out of 17 competitors, Riley is currently in fifth place while Diggs is in 10th.
Riley started out slow, finishing 11th in the 60 meters (7.39) and 10th in the long jump (21-6). He quickly jolted up the leaderboard, though, with a sixth-place finish in the shot put (36-10.5) and tying for third place in the high jump (6-4).
Diggs started the day strong, placing second in the 60 meters (7.07) and finishing sixth in the long jump (21-10.75). The freshman hit a little bit of a hiccup over the final two events, however, scoring 12th in the shot put (32-10.25) and 15th in the high jump (5-5.25).
“I think they’re set up pretty well for tomorrow,” Schweyen said of the men. “Josh is in a really good position to continue to improve his position, and Aidan is one of the fastest hurdlers here, so he’ll continue to improve as well.”
The final three events will take place Friday at 10 a.m. The rest of the Big Sky Championships will begin Friday at 3 p.m.
“What’s so special about the multis is you get to set the tone for the whole weekend,” McLeod said. “We’re off to a good start so I’m excited to see where it goes from here.”