(Editor's note: MSUB media release)
Most members of the Montana State University Billings track teams only had to wait nine months since their last outdoor track meet. Factor in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference Indoor Championships from two weeks ago, and most of the Yellowjackets had barely gone one month since their last track competition.
Yet the long-awaited debuts from junior thrower Forrest Cross and sophomore hurdler Bradley Graves – both of whom have waited several years since their last outdoor track meets – were two of the highlights from MSUB's season opener at the Yellowjackets/Battlin' Bears Icebreaker Open on Saturday.
Cross and Graves won the discus and the 110-meter high hurdles, respectively, and as a whole, MSUB had nine individual wins. Both the men's team and the women's team won the meet. The men beat out rival Rocky Mountain College 153-129.5, while the women beat second-place Montana Tech with 182 points.
"Overall, we did really well," MSUB track and field head coach Jonathan Woehl said. "For a first meet and running into a headwind, this meet was a good place to start. We have some ideas of how we can tweak training next week to be a little bit faster. Most of the jumpers improved upon their indoor marks, which is a good sign, and a lot of the sprinters either matched their times, or were right where they were at in indoor season."
During the hammer throw session on Saturday morning, the Yellowjacket throwers established good marks while throwing in front of a supportive home crowd. Few throwers drew as many cheers as Cross, who competed in his first outdoor meet since the 2018 GNAC Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
All his patience and hard work after rehabbing from several injuries was rewarded. Cross led the way for the Yellowjackets, popped off a huge personal best and took second in the hammer throw with a mark of 44.40m (145-8) – good for fifth-best in MSUB history.
"It was good to have him in the meet atmosphere, with his teammates again," Woehl said. "The atmosphere we had at the hammer throw this morning was great. The team was really loud for all our throwers, and I think a large part of that was that everyone likes Forrest and they want to see him throw. He hasn't thrown in three years, but he finally got to compete again. It's awesome to have him back and I hope next week will be better."
Cross would go on to win the discus with a throw of 43.99m (144-4), then place second in the shot put behind Braden Anderson with a 14.06m (46-1.5) toss. Anderson won it with a 14.18m (46-6.25) – the eighth-furthest mark in MSUB history.
On the women's side, Ryann Moline had a productive collegiate throwing debut. The Circle High School graduate threw in all four disciplines – hammer, shot put, discus and javelin – and was MSUB's leader in three of them. Most notably, Moline's throw of 39.35m in the javelin was four millimeters away from breaking the school record. Moline also placed second in the shot put with a 38.97m mark and fourth in the shot put with a throw of 10.99m.
"The throwers did great," Woehl said. "For a lot of them, this was their first time throwing in every event. Ryann did really well, and she was just off of the school record in the javelin."
The track action started on a high note with Graves' aforementioned 110-meter high hurdles win. Competing in his first outdoor track meet since his senior year of high school in 2019, Bradley Graves won with a 15.35 – the second-fastest time in MSUB history. Graves, who transferred in from Montana State yet never ran an outdoor meet due to injuries, won his signature event with nearly a one-second cushion ahead of the field.
"I'm really excited for Brad and I'm proud of him," Woehl said. "He's come a long way. He last ran a 110-meter hurdle race since high school, so it was exciting to see him get to run it for the first time ever in college. To have come that far, and for today to be his starting point, that's a great starting point."
"He's the real deal," Woehl added. "He's a lot of fun to work with and he makes his teammates better every day."
Graves wasn't the only hurdler to be victorious in their long-awaited outdoor debut. Annelise Clark won her 400-meter hurdle debut with a 1:11.26 – the seventh-fastest time at MSUB. Clark joined the MSUB track team this year after attending Casper College for two years, albeit just as a student. Like Graves, her last outdoor track meet was in high school in 2019, making Saturday's meet a big milestone for her.
"Annelise was super nervous going into it because she had been a really good track athlete in high school and she hasn't competed in over two years," Woehl said. "Stepping up and running the 400-meter hurdles today was a great spot for her to start. I thought she was fairly consistent throughout the track and steadily hit her marks on every single hurdle."
Freshman Benjamin Ralston won the 200 meters with a 22.82 – but not before turning some heads in the 100-meter dash. Ralston, who only ran the open 100 meters once in high school, won the first heat in a 11.42, which not only was the fastest MSUB time of the day, but also third-fastest overall.
"He's fast," Woehl said. "Everyone was surprised with Ben's 100 meters, but he's just a fast kid who's getting faster. I'm excited to get to see him run the open 400 meters in the next week or two and getting him to run a good leg in the 4x400 relay. Ben may have nosed his way into being consideration for the 4x100 relay today."
For the women's sprinters, Chantel Chase led the way by placing second in both the 100 meters (13.30) and the 200 meters (27.15). Freshman Madeline Severson won the 400 meters with a 1:01.26, which is the seventh-fastest time in program history.
Distance-wise, Ase Ackerman and Carson Jessop went 1-2 in the 800 meters with a 1:57.86 and a 1:59.85, respectively. Both men ran PRs, and Jessop broke two minutes in the 800 for the first time. Junior Kailee Stoppel soloed for the bulk of the 5,000 meters and won with an 18:58.83 – less than four seconds off her personal best.
"They did really well competing and pushing themselves," Woehl said of the distance runners. "Kailee should be able to cut another 15 seconds off her 5K time soon, and for Ase, we were working on a little more speed for him, so he ran that well and came back in the 400 meters."