BOZEMAN — Summer couldn’t have gotten off to a much better start for Lyle Weese.
After an effective 2018-19 school year, his first as Montana State’s director of track and field, Weese carried that momentum into June, signing a class of heralded recruits.
“We are obviously really excited about it. Just so many of the best athletes from the state of Montana have signed with us for MSU track and field,” Weese said. “It’s always great to be able to recruit well in the state that your university’s from, and those tend to be the athletes that have a lot of success at this level, too.”
Weese has been coaching the Montana State cross country teams since 2014, but the Bobcats ran to their best finish in five years at the Big Sky Conference cross country championships last fall. That fourth-place finish started an impressive run for MSU.
In the indoor track and field season, the MSU men and women each earned runner-up finishes at the conference championships, and the outdoor track and field championships saw more record-setting performances for MSU. Freshman Duncan Hamilton won a Big Sky Conference championship in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
Montana State’s cross country and track and field teams ran past expectations in Weese’s first year running both programs.
They’ve kept right on running into the summer, and fans of Montana high school track and field have likely taken notice. The Bobcats’ 2019 recruiting class includes athletes like Ben Perrin, Levi Taylor, Brad Graves, Casey Gunlikson and Damien Nelson.
Nelson is Montana’s fastest man. He set the high school all-class record in the 100-meter dash when he crossed the line in 10.5 seconds his senior year at Great Falls CMR. After one season playing football at Montana State University-Northern, Nelson is set to return to the track, where he’ll again chase the times of another former Rustler.
Nelson broke Chris Wilson’s high school record, but Wilson also holds MSU’s records in the 60-, 100- and 200-meter dashes.
“Sometimes you just get lucky. (Nelson) spent a year up at MSU-Northern playing football. I think he really missed track and we were fortunate that, yeah, he decided he wanted to come to MSU and contacted us,” Weese said, adding that Nelson, Graves and Gunlikson “could be really great cornerstones of a great sprints and hurdles program.”
Graves, a Huntley Project High School product, broke Montana’s all-class record in the 110-meter hurdles this spring, blazing to a time of 14.14 seconds. Graves was second in the 300-meter hurdles, finishing behind only Gunlikson, who added state titles in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes for his Big Timber Sheepherders.
While the sprinters attract much of the attention, Montana State’s distance team is setting up to potentially be one of the best in the conference. It’s Weese’s area of strength — he was an all-American in the early 2000s for the Bobcats — and it’s a team anchored by a strong core of Montanans, led by Laurel native Ty Mogan. Mogan paced five Bobcats — all Montana natives — in the top 28 at the Big Sky Conference cross country championships. Three of them — Hamilton, Cooper West and Isaac Schmidt — were freshmen.
“We just have an outstanding young core,” Weese said. “Last year we had five men’s distance runners that’ll be sophomores this year. That class, there’s just something a little different about them, just their maturity and what they want to do together as a group. Then adding in individuals like Ben Perrin and Levi Taylor really sets the program up for a lot of success on the men’s side in the distance events.”
Perrin, from Kalispell Flathead, is the third of three brothers to run at a Division I program. Zach Perrin, the oldest, was a two-time all-American at Colorado, and Jake Perrin is in the midst of a solid career at Gonzaga.
Taylor erased some of Patrick Casey’s high school records at Laurel and will look to do the same at Montana State. Casey was the first Bobcat to run a 4-minute mile and has the program’s indoor records in the 800-meter run and the mile.
The future certainly looks bright for the Bobcat men, but it’s actually the women coming off the better performance. They finished fifth at the Big Sky Conference outdoor championships, but the theme, again, is youth.
Four freshmen — Camila Noe, Elena Carter, Lucy Corbett, and Madi Arneson — earned points at the championships.
“We had a great freshman class that’s going to be sophomores all across the board in all event groups for last year, so we had a young women’s team. Then we’ve added in great recruits that are going to be freshmen this coming year,” Weese said. “But, really, a big key to our team will be how those sophomores come back this year, and usually there’s just so much growth between the freshman and sophomore year. But that group of women, especially the women’s sprint and hurdles crew that were freshmen last year that’ll be sophomores, really outstanding and can do some great things here.”