Montana’s Erika McLeod a record-breaking champion that keeps getting better

Posted at 9:14 PM, Feb 27, 2019
and last updated 2019-02-28 12:31:05-05

BOZEMAN — When you have already achieved greatness, it’s not easy to reach an even higher level.

University of Montana track star Erika McLeod had already won two Big Sky Conference indoor pentathlon titles. Then the Butte native took a redshirt year in 2018 to work on improving even more. Now the KPAX Athlete of the Week has shown she’s better than ever.

McLeod entered her final Big Sky championships as the overwhelming favorite, and then she blew away even those expectations. The senior finished first or second in all five events, breaking personal bests in four of them.

By the time she sprinted to the front of the final event, she had already wrapped up the title. A good time in the 800 meters gave her 4,128 points, a new Big Sky Conference record in the pentathlon and proved that McLeod’s work for years had all paid off.

“This is the most excited I’ve ever been for a pentathlon,” said McLeod. “In the past, I think I get really nervous. I still get nervous, but almost more stressed. And I just wanted to soak it all in. It’s my last one. It was awesome. It was so fun.”

“I think I am just so — oh, I’m going to cry again — but just grateful and appreciative of my teammates and coaches,” added McLeod as she fought back tears after her triumph. “There was a lot of ups and downs. But it just feels so good to be nearing my end knowing that I have just done everything that I can do, and it’s just a really happy feeling.”

The performance doubled as the 11th-best score in the country this year, so now McLeod gets to go to NCAA indoor nationals for the first time. She finished with a strong 800 meters to make sure nothing was left to chance.

“This is the first time that I’ve been close to going to nationals, so that was my first thought,” said McLeod about her mindset going into the 800 meters. “And then my teammate Jansen (Ziola), I just wanted her to get out with me, because I knew she would finish second. I mean, she did more than she needed to do, and so it was really special.”

Ziola won the Big Sky pentathlon last year, while McLeod sat out. The sophomore from Canada put up the seventh-best pentathlon score in conference history, and she still finished more than 200 points behind McLeod.

“Erika has made it pretty easy,” said Griz head track coach Brian Schweyen. “She made it one of the easiest coaching jobs you could’ve ever asked for. She just took care of business. I think it’s destiny. I think it’s something that she has had planned for a long time. I don’t think she was going to let anyone stand in her way.”

McLeod will head to Birmingham, Alabama for nationals. She’ll compete on March 8.