CollegeMontana State Bobcats


Montana State steeplechase group advances three to NCAA Championships

Levi Taylor
Posted at 9:46 PM, May 24, 2024

(Editor's note: Montana State University news release)

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Three Montana State Bobcats punched their tickets to Eugene, Ore., on the third day of the NCAA West First Rounds on Friday, as the top-ranked men's steeplechase group in America qualified a national-best three athletes on a steamy day at John McDonnell Field in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Rob McManus, Levi Taylor, and Owen Smith will all represent "SteepleU" with Montana State across their chests in June at the NCAA Championships.

"It was a special day qualifying three in the steeple for the second year in a row," coach Lyle Weese said. "There were high expectations for Levi and Rob because of how well they had run this year and last year. However, that can be a difficult position, but they executed so well and really cruised through their heats.

"Owen was ranked 43rd coming into the meet, so for him to qualify took a super positive mindset based on what seemed like a long shot on paper. However, Owen followed his race plan, stayed relaxed, and put himself in a position to fight for it on the final stretch and qualify for NCAA's."

The three Bobcats will be the most of any school in the country in the men's steeplechase at Hayward Field, and Montana State is now one of just two schools (Eastern Kentucky) to qualify multiple athletes in the event for the NCAA Championships each of the last three years.

"In this sport, anything can happen," McManus said. "You can't take anything for granted. I think just the relief crossing the line, and then watching those other heats after mine, watching the boys kill it, that was just incredible. Knowing we have such a big group, that means a lot."

Montana State sent two to nationals in 2022 (Levi Taylor, Duncan Hamilton), three in 2023 (Taylor, Hamilton, Rob McManus), and now will send three in 2024 (Taylor, McManus, Owen Smith).

"There's something really special about (SteepleU) getting started or re-started with Duncan and then Levi, and we've just added guys that can be national participants ever since," McManus said. "Starting that is pretty cool, and carrying it on is just awesome and incredible."

The eight appearances by four different athletes in the steeplechase is the most in the country over the last three years.

"It's not a tradition we take lightly," Smith said. "We know it's not guaranteed. It's something we have to work really hard for. I didn't think it was going to happen until about 200 meters to go. This is a family, man. That last lap, I was just thinking about all the people who have supported us and all the people who have been a part of this program and have wanted this to happen."

Taylor, a senior from Laurel, qualifies for the third straight year in the 3,000 meter steeplechase. The Bobcat great coasted to a win in the third heat to become just the third man in program history to advance to three outdoor NCAA Championships, joining his former teammate Duncan Hamilton (2020-23) and javelin thrower Nick Lam (2007-09).

McManus, a junior from Cashmere, Washington, qualified for the second straight year in the steeplechase by taking second in the first heat on Friday, crossing the line behind defending national champion James Corrigan of Brigham Young.

"Just seeing Rob while I was sitting in the clerking tent waiting for our heat, he came in and told us he made it, and that kind of just started some momentum," Taylor said. "The energy was pretty hype for Owen and I. We just had a lot of positive thoughts going into the race."

Smith, a junior from Billings, was visibly emotional after qualifying for the NCAA Championships for the first time in his career.

While McManus, seeded fourth, and Taylor, seeded sixth, were favorites to return to Eugene with two of the 12 available spots, Smith was seeded 43rd entering Friday's action, then turned in the race of his life to place third in the third heat and grab the final auto-bid to the biggest meet in collegiate track and field.

"You've seen over the past three or four years — Lyle Weese and his training just has us peak at the right time," Smith said. "I've had some ups and downs this season, but I know that what I've been doing the past couple months has prepared me for today, no matter what the rankings say. I know I haven't had my best races, but it only matters what your best on regionals day is, so I knew I had a shot. Everybody on that start line had the same chance, so I just went out there and executed."

Smith followed Taylor stride-for-stride before Taylor extended a lead over the final stretch. Smith was in fourth rounding the last turn, but turned on the jets to cross the line in 8:49.21, ahead of Utah State's Mark Crandall at 8:50.05.

"I'm really excited," Smith added. "To be honest, coming into this weekend I really didn't think it was going to happen. But being here at this meet and watching this level of talent and seeing these boys, following Levi through the race pretty much step-for-step — you couldn't ask for any better emotions at the end."

Elsewhere, senior hurdler Janis Pohl put a bow on one of the most remarkable comeback stories in program history, placing 17th in the men's 400 meter hurdles and finishing just five spots out of a bid to Eugene.

The native of Germany qualified for Friday's quarterfinal action thanks to a personal-best 50.69 on Wednesday, then ended his career with a fifth-place finish in the second heat on Friday, crossing the line in 51.07.

In the men's 5,000 meters, two of the best distance runners in program history put bows on two unforgettable careers, as Ben Perrin finished 19th and Matt Richtman finished 25th.

The duo were pulling off a double that included an exhausting 10,000 meter run on Wednesday night that saw both of them finish in the top-20 but on the outside looking in at a ticket to Eugene.

On Friday in the 5,000 meters, a talent-filled pack separated in the later stages, with Perrin and Richtman on the outside looking in despite gutsy efforts on a humid evening in Fayetteville.

In the men's triple jump, Ian Fosdick wrapped up his decorated Bobcat career placing 28th with a leap of 49-08.25 (+2.7).

The school-record holder helped the Bobcats win their first team title since 2005 two weeks ago and now ends his career with a top-30 result at the NCAA West Regional.

"Ben, Matt, Ian, and Janis all competed in an NCAA track meet for the final time," Weese said. "These are individuals that have done so much for the Bobcats. It is so hard to say goodbye to them as NCAA track competitors because of what incredible teammates, people, and performers they have been and really raised the bar for the program."

Montana State closes their stay in Arkansas with the fourth and final day of competition at John McDonnell Field on Saturday.

Three Bobcat women's distance runners will try to join the steeple trio in Eugene, with Grace Gilbreth and Hannah Perrin competing in the 3,000 meter steeplechase at 5:40 p.m. CT/4:40 p.m. MT, and Kyla Christopher-Moody racing in the 5,000 meters at 8:10 p.m. CT/7:10 p.m. MT.

Both races will be streamed on ESPN+.