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Cross wins discus, Graves breaks school record on Day 1 of GNAC's

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Posted at 2:49 PM, May 14, 2022

(Editor's note: MSUB media release)

ELLENSBURG, Wash. – In a memorable day for the Montana State University Billings track and field team, redshirt junior thrower Forrest Cross won the discus, Bradley Graves broke his own 110-meter high hurdle record, plus Kailee Stoppel and Carson Jessop earned All-Great Northwest Athletic Conference honors in the steeplechase on the first day of the GNAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships on Friday.

“Trying to ride the momentum from today will be the goal for tomorrow,” MSUB head track and field coach Jonathan Woehl said. “Forrest got our team going, then a lot of people in between kept that momentum going in a lot of different events. That’s what’s so great about this team: Tomorrow we’ll hopefully get some contributions in the high jump and the triple jumps. We’re just going to keep riding the wave.”

As it stands, the men are in third place behind Western Washington and Northwest Nazarene with 21 points. The women are seventh out of nine teams with 19 points. Both teams have already surpassed their point totals from last year’s conference outdoor meet, in which both MSUB squads placed eighth out of eight teams.

Saturday’s action at Central Washington University starts with the triple jump at 10:15 a.m. PT, then the 4x100 relay will kick off the track action at 2:45 p.m. local time. Live results can be found at www.gnac.live [gnac.live].

FIVE PRS IN SIX THROWS HELP CROSS WIN DISCUS TITLE

Forrest Cross’ first discus throw at the conference meet was high and hooked right. It almost looked like it was fighting to keep climbing into the grey, cloudy skies over Ellensburg before it wobbled one more time and hit the ground.

But despite the throw’s appearances, when the meet judges called out the distance – 45.80m – Cross felt like he put pressure on his opponents. Thankfully for the sixth-year thrower, that personal best didn’t stand for too long. In Cross’ 2022 GNAC discus title run, he threw personal bests on five of his six throws before winning it all with a 48.47m (159-0) throw that ranks second in school history.\

“After his first throw, I could tell that it was going to be an incredible day,” MSUB throwing coach Nels Flanagan said. “Form-wise, his first throw was not good and he still PRed. Every throw until his last couple of throws, I was critiquing something from his previous throw. And he knew that too. You could feel that he hadn’t had that great throw yet. Then he progressed throw by throw until his final one.”

One personal best led to another. Cross said he started to believe he had a chance at winning the GNAC title on his second throw – a 46.64m toss that he straightened out a bit after seeing his first throw nearly arc out of the sector. By the third throw, Cross knew he was going to win.

In the early goings, however, Cross’ confidence was warranted. He appeared to be the only one of the GNAC’s main contenders who was having a good day. Western Washington’s Ben Malquist threw a 45.54m throw on the first attempt, then couldn’t land his next four throws inbounds. Regular-season GNAC leader Omar Young had difficulties keeping his feet inside the throwing circle; he took third with a throw of 45.36m, then fouled his next five attempts. All told, Cross was one of four throwers to not scratch in his first three throws.

“The other top two throwers either scratched, or didn’t throw very well and I threw further than them,” Cross said. “From the third throw on, I told myself, ‘I’ve got this.’”

Cross broke into the 47-meter range for the fist time on the third throw. Despite already being in the lead, Cross was also the only thrower to improve on his first three throws. While he kept increasing his lead over the rest of the field, Flanagan – who was Cross’ teammate when he threw for MSUB – said he was still stressed about the possibility of someone else popping off a legal mark.

“He was ahead by six or seven feet in the finals, but I was still stressed,” Flanagan said. “There were a couple of guys who could’ve gotten very close, but it was assuring that Forrest was progressing on each throw. He had safe throws, he had good throws, but it was good to see him put more on it each time. With a younger thrower, you can’t expect them to give more effort each time. But with Forrest, when everything’s clicking for him, you can expect him to put more effort into each throw.”

After a minor setback on Cross’ fourth throw – the only one in which he didn’t set a new personal best – his fifth toss of 47.66m not only kept Cross in the lead, but also pulled him ahead of Flanagan on the MSUB top-10 list. Sometime between Cross’ fifth and sixth throws, Flanagan said he started to get emotional.

Yet Young and Malquist still couldn’t keep their feet in the throwing circle. NNU’s Derek Knight momentarily riled up the crowd with a 42.35m throw that kept him in fourth place, then consecutive fouls from Young and Malquist brought Cross up for his final throw. At this point, Cross already clinched the GNAC title.

But he wanted more.

“The last two throws were pretty surreal,” Cross said. “The other guys weren’t throwing too well, they had their heads down and I was starting to feel good. I had another far throw on the second-to-last throw, then the last one was just an all-out thing. I knew I had won – it was a matter of how much I could win by.”

Cross yelled after he went through his rotation on the final throw. His sixth throw sailed high and dead-center before erring slightly to the right as it hit the ground. He watched the disc hit the ground, clapped, then waited what seemed like an eternity before the judge read off the mark.

The 2022 GNAC champion only needed to hear the words “forty eight” to start celebrating.

“It was incredible,” Flanagan said. “I was crying before his last throw. I was already so proud of him and all of his other throws where he PRed, because he already had an incredible meet. He’s getting into very competitive distances now in discus – he’s getting very close to the NCAA provisional mark. To see him go out and PR again on his last throw was crazy.”

Coen Guisti and Braden Anderson – the latter of whom joined Cross in finals and placed eighth with a PR of 38.42m (126-0) – were the first teammates to celebrate with him. But before that, Cross embraced his coaches, Flanagan and Taylor Stringari – both of whom were Cross’ teammates at MSUB before they graduated in 2017 and 2021, respectively. Cross said afterwards that having both of them watch his conference title-winning throws made the moment even more meaningful.

“We grew up together, we competed together, and now that I’m the one still competing and they’re coaching, they’re super happy for me,” Cross said. “I’m super excited that I got to have them by my side. Having them there made winning feel even better.”

With the win, Cross is MSUB’s first-ever GNAC champion in the discus. He joins Beau Ackerman (javelin, ’19 and ’21) as one of two MSUB male throwers to win conference outdoor titles. The win has been a long time coming: A slew of injuries and season-ending surgeries have kept Cross away from the conference outdoor track meet since 2018.

“It’s hard to come up with the right words to sum up how proud I am of him,” Flanagan added. “He’s gone through every injury in the book. And it’s his sixth year here, post-surgeries and post-injuries. To come out and throw his furthest throw by 15 feet from his previous lifetime PR – he improved so much throughout the season and I couldn’t be more proud of the guy.”

GRAVES BREAKS SCHOOL RECORD, ADVANCES TO FINALS

Ever since Bradley Graves suited up for MSUB this winter, the school hurdle records haven’t been safe – and that includes Graves’ own school record.

The sophomore hurdler broke his own school record in the 110-meter high hurdle prelims with a 14.77. His time was not only the second-fastest time in his heat, but also the third-fastest overall heading into tomorrow’s finals.

“Brad had a good day and ran a little faster than the time he came in with,” Woehl said. “He’s within striking distance of winning the 110-meter hurdles tomorrow. He’s got a great opportunity tomorrow. He’s starting to figure out the start, too.”

Throughout this year, Graves has run his best times in competitive heats. Saturday’s should be no exception: Alaska Anchorage’s Joshua Wagner leads the way with the 14.22 he ran in the prelims – one hundredth of a second off of the GNAC meet record. Graves and Wagner raced against each other in the 60-meter hurdles at the GNAC Indoor Track and Field Championships this past February, yet their race on Saturday should look much different than it did several months ago.

“He has more races, has more experience and he’s starting to get his confidence back,” Woehl said. “He knows he can do it. In indoor season, he knew eventually he would be able to run fast; in outdoor, he’s realized he can run fast now.”

Friday’s race marked another good race for Graves in recent memory. He broke the school record with a wind-legal 14.80 in the prelims at the Bengal Invitational two weeks ago, plus he set PRs in the 100-meter dash at the Bengal Invitational and the Dickinson State University Last Chance meet last week. He is the only MSUB track athlete to advance out of the prelims.

STOPPEL, JESSOP EARN ALL-CONFERENCE AWARDS IN THE STEEPLECHASE

Distance runners Carson Jessop and Kailee Stoppel have consistently been MSUB’s best in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Friday’s race was no exception.

Both ‘Jackets took third place in the steeplechase, earning them all-conference distinction for placing in the top three. MSUB hasn’t had female and male runners earn all-conference in the steeplechase since Robert Peterson and Della Lyle did so in 2016.

With excellent water barrier clearings and a 1:29.6 final lap – the second-fastest time of the race – Stoppel placed third with a time of 11:23.11. She had a five-second cushion between herself and fourth place Alfin Nyamasyo of Alaska Anchorage, who Stoppel ran with before gapping her on the sixth lap.

“Kailee did exactly what she needed to do to get third,” Woehl said. “She was really good on the water barrier. She was probably better than everyone else – men or women.”

Like Stoppel’s race, Jessop’s featured two leaders out in front, then a competitive chase pack who fought for third place. Jessop hovered around third place for the first six laps before dropping back to fifth place on the sixth lap. Yet he made an effort to move up over the final two laps, closed in a 1:09 split and took advantage of another runner falling in the water pit to move up two spots in the final 200 meters. Jessop’s time of 9:17.93 was his second-fastest of the season.

“Carson had two laps to go and it was now or never,” Woehl said. “He had to go for it, so he did and it paid off.”

Friday’s race was the last one of Jessop’s career, who leaves MSUB as the program’s third-fastest steeplechase racer of all time with his 9:07.74 from the Bryan Clay Invitational. His third-place finish at this year’s conference championship was the best of his career.

10K PRS, FOUR NEW TOP-10 TIMES WRAP UP DAY ONE

Fifty laps between the men’s and women’s 10,000 meter runs closed out MSUB’s day one action at the conference track meet. Thankfully for Ally Whitmer, Kit Wiersema, Logan Straus and Bryant Edgerton, their 25-lap races happened to be the best of their careers.

In the women’s race, both Whitmer and Wiersema moved up to 6th and 7th all-time at MSUB with their times of 41:50.59 and 42:47.83, respectively. Meanwhile in the men’s race, Straus made his 10K debut on the track with a 32:11.13 – a lifetime best in the distance and the second-fastest time in program history. Edgerton’s 33:07.65 was also a PR and ranks seventh all-time at MSUB.

The women’s race was a foregone conclusion after 600 meters, as Seattle Pacific superstar freshman Annika Esvelt broke off from the group and rattled off laps in the 1:27-1:29 range before winning in 36:32.20. Yet the middle of the pack was an interesting affair. Whitmer and Wiersema worked with the middle pack, toughed it out in no-man’s land, but ended up taking 10th and 14th, respectively. Both women out-ran their altitude-converted times from their 10K debuts at the Bengal Invitational two weeks ago.

“Ally and Kit dropped a ton of time and were faster than both of their altitude-converted times from Idaho State,” Woehl said. “On a day like today, that’s all you can ask for. They had a good day.”

The men’s race was entirely tactical. Straus and Edgerton worked together from the back, then gradually moved up as the field was content to stay packed up for the first half of the race. Two different runners tried to lead early, but after they faded from the front, a lead pack of UAA’s Coleman Nash, NNU’s Tyler Shea and a group of five runners broke off from the field.

“That was a really hard debut to make in the 10K,” Woehl said. “Most of the time when you debut in the 10K, you’re running with guys who all want to PR, so they’re sticking to a pace and seeing if they can run that for as long as they can. But at the conference meet, people are either doubling with the 5K tomorrow or they have already run another event. They don’t want to PR – they just want to place well.”

Straus was in a group of four runners chasing the lead pack for the middle third of the race. He gradually worked his way up, picked off runners from the lead pack who got left behind, then closed in a blistering 1:04.71 to place eighth with a 32:11.13. His last lap was the third-fastest closing lap of the race, and was second to only Nash’s 59-second split and Shea’s 61-second split – both of whom finished in the top two.

“Logan handled all the moves and reeled in eighth place – and he almost reeled in seventh place after making up 10 seconds off of seventh place runner on the last lap,” Woehl said.

Meanwhile, Edgerton rattled off 80-83 second laps in 15th place before moving up to 14th on the last lap. His 33:07.65 marked the second-straight personal best in the 10K this season; he too PRed at the Bengal Invitational two weeks ago.

THE RUNDOWN

  • Forrest Cross was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Men’s Athlete of the Day for winning a GNAC title in the discus with a 48.47m (159-0) throw. His mark is the second-best in MSUB program history.
  • Kailee Stoppel was named the St. Vincent Healthcare Women’s Athlete of the Day for earning All-Conference honors in the 3,000-meter steeplechase by placing third with an 11:23.11
  • Bradley Graves’ new school record of 14.77 in the 110-meter high hurdles was the second-fastest time in his heat and the third-fastest overall. He was the lone Yellowjacket to qualify for Saturday’s finals in a track event.
  • Ryann Moline placed fifth in the discus with a throw of 38.54m (126-5) and seventh in the javelin with a 37.31m (122-5) mark.
  • Jordan Cookman took fifth in the javelin with a season-best throw of 38.63m (126-9).
  • Ase Ackerman also set a new personal-best in the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a 9:29.70, which was good for sixth place.
  • Braden Anderson placed eighth in the discus with a new personal best mark of 38.42m (126-0).
  • Logan Straus’ 32:11.13 debut in the 10,000 meters was not only good for eighth place, but also the second-fastest time in school history. His teammate, Bryant Edgerton, ran a PR of 33:07.65 that ranks seventh at MSUB.
  • In the women’s 10K, Ally Whitmer took 10th with a new PR of 41:50.59 – sixth-best at MSUB – whereas Kit Wiersema ran a 42:47.83 that is the seventh-best in program history.

UP NEXT: The final day of the GNAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships opens with the men's triple jump at 10:15 a.m. PT. The first track event is the 4x100 meters, which is set to start at around 2:45 p.m. local time. Live stats can be found at www.gnac.live [gnac.live], plus all results will be updated to the men's and women's track and field schedule pages at msubsports.com at the completion of the meet.