(Editor's note: MSUB Athletics release)
AZUSA, Calif. – The Montana State University Billings track and field team got its California trip off on the right foot as Carson Jessop hit the NCAA Division II provisional standard and Kailee Stoppel ran a personal best in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at Azusa Pacific University’s Bryan Clay Invitational on Wednesday evening.
Running in the fourth of five heats, Jessop placed fifth in his heat of the 3,000-meter steeplechase with a 9:07.74, which was not only faster than the 9:13.44 provisional standard, but also a 22-second personal best. At the time of publication, Jessop has the third-fastest time in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference and the 12th-fastest time in Division II.
“It was one of the most fun races I’ve ever run,” Jessop said of the race. “I always had someone to compete with, and running under the lights in great weather made it even better.”
The fifth-year senior took out the first few laps quickly, hanging around third place in a crowded front pack. At around the 2,000-meter mark, Jessop avoiding a Weber State runner who fell over one of the barriers; at this point in the race, he hung around eighth or ninth place.
“Carson got out pretty aggressively, which I think is what he needed to do,” MSUB assistant track coach Kevin Bjerke said. “I think he had some really good confidence with how training was going and how the season was going. By the middle of the race, he was grinding pretty hard. And then he realized how fast he was running, how much faster he was going than his PR pace and how close he was to running a provisional mark.”
Then Jessop surged.
“I tried to use the pack to pull me along, and I stayed steady for a few laps,” Jessop said. “I was feeling it big time but I came through with 600 meters to go and I knew I had enough to make a good move.”
After surging past two runners on a clean landing over the final water barrier jump, Jessop passed another pair of runners on the home stretch and finished neck-and-neck with Abilene Christian’s Maxwel Kiplagat at the tape. He placed fifth in his heat and 28th overall amongst 61 runners. Jessop also beat 19 Division I runners.
“He closed extremely well,” Bjerke said. “It was really fun to see him come out, be aggressive, then come back and finish strong.”
Jessop’s 9:07.74 ranks third all-time in MSUB history. Coincidentally, the two runners ahead of him – school-record-holder Jorey Egeland and Robert Peterson – both qualified for nationals.
“I crossed and saw my time on the board, and I wanted to lay down,” Jessop said. “But I looked around for the boys, found them and celebrated a bit. I knew I had a good time in me, but the provisional mark makes the provisional time even better,” Jessop said. “I’ll see if I can bust down some more and get to nationals.”
Although Stoppel also ran a personal-best time in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, her race was a lot more significant than just a faster time. Bjerke and Stoppel said that Wednesday’s race drastically improved her confidence after running a difficult debut in the event earlier this season at Black Hills State’s Yellow Jacket Spring Open. At one point, Stoppel thought of stepping away from the steeplechase entirely.
“Going into the race, I had zero confidence and I felt pretty intimidated by the field,” Stoppel said. “But I think that helped me a lot when I strategized the race because I didn’t go out with the group right away. They took off pretty quickly, but I started towards the back and moved up when I felt good.”
Through four laps, Stoppel and Kathryn Kelly of Southern Utah were running together as eventual heat-winner Jenna McCaffrey of Northern Arizona pulled the lead pack along in an aggressive start. Yet Stoppel wasn’t rattled, stayed disciplined and – in Bjerke’s words – ran the race like an upperclassman.
“I went out ahead of one other girl and she was battling it right at the water for the first few laps,” Stoppel said. “She was right at the water at the barrier every single time. We went over the barrier at the exact same time. I would pull ahead because my landing was more solid than hers, but then every time we’d go around, she’d come up right behind me at the barrier again.”
As Stoppel rattled off laps in 90 to 94 seconds, she and Kelly would reach the tail end of the middle pack. When Stoppel passed Sidney Hendricks of UC San Diego over the last barrier, she felt her adrenalin surge. She would finish in 11th place in her heat with an 11:15.57 – coincidentally, like Jessop, is the third-fastest time in the GNAC this year.
“I knew I wanted to pick it up in the last lap because I wanted to go under 11:30, which was my goal today,” Stoppel said. “When I went over the water barrier over the last lap, I decided to sprint then. If I were to run it again, I would’ve tried to run on empty instead of having that last little bit left.”
Before Wednesday’s race, junior from Billings, Mont. is already the second-fastest steeplechaser in MSUB history, but her time on Wednesday was a two-second improvement from the personal best she ran at the 2021 Great Northwest Athletic Conference Track and Field Championships.
“It felt significantly better running at sea level,” Stoppel said. “Everything felt the way it was supposed to, and definitely the time was a result of that. It was a big confidence-booster crossing the line in under 12 minutes – especially after how my last race at Spearfish went.”
On Thursday at the Bryan Clay Invitational, Stoppel will run her first 800 meters since breaking the school record and taking third at the GNAC Indoor Championships in February. With this PR already under her belt, she hopes to take advantage of running at sea level and be motivated by Jessop, Ase Ackerman and Logan Straus’ races.
“Watching Carson qualify provisionally really motivated me,” Stoppel added. “And watching the guys run tomorrow will definitely help me out a lot too. I gain a lot of confidence and I am easily influenced by watching them run well.”
Earlier on Wednesday, Ryann Moline and Forrest Cross placed second in their respective events at the Cal State LA Twilight Open, which were held at Cerritos College.
“I was happy with how they threw and they were happy with how they threw,” Bjerke said. “Obviously, PRs would have been nice, but both of them had pretty consistent rounds near their PRs. They were pretty happy with that and how they competed. I think that started us off in the right direction.”
In the javelin, Moline’s first throw of 36.90m was her best, yet the freshman kept all her throws inbound over the next six attempts. Moline broke 36 meters on her third and sixth throws and held on for second place behind Josie Zeiger of Northwest Missouri State, who won with a 42.35m mark. Moline was the only thrower to land all of her attempts inbounds, plus she was the top freshman in the event.
Later that afternoon in the hammer throw, Cross hovered around the 47-meter mark and nearly broke his PR of 47.99m. Cross would also take second place on his third throw of 47.20m, which was second only to Ryan Smith of Division I Miami (Ohio), who won with a 55.85m throw.
MSUB’s second day in the City of Angels starts with Ase Ackerman and Logan Straus running the 5K at the Bryan Clay Invitational at 8 a.m. Meanwhile at Long Beach State’s Pacific Intercollegiate, Ryann Moline will throw the javelin at 8:30 a.m., then Forrest Cross will throw the men’s discus at 2 p.m. Moline will also throw the discus and Cross will wrap up day two in the shot put at 4 p.m. Kailee Stoppel and Carson Jessop will close the day’s action running the 800 meters at the Bryan Clay Invitational, starting at around 4:10 p.m.
Links to live results and a live stream for the Bryan Clay Invitational races can be found on the men’s and women’s track and field team’s schedule pages on msubsports.com.