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'SteepleU' set for NCAA championships; Montana State is most-represented school in event

Levi Taylor
Posted at 3:20 PM, Jun 04, 2024

BOZEMAN — Montana State — better known as "SteepleU" during this time of year — will be the most-represented program in its signature event, the steeplechase, at this week's NCAA outdoor track and field championships in Eugene, Ore.

Redshirt senior Levi Taylor, redshirt junior Owen Smith and junior Rob McManus all qualified for the championships from the West Preliminary round in Fayetteville, Ark. in May and are set to run the steeplechase at 6:02 p.m. Mountain time on Wednesday at the national meet. It will be televised on ESPN2 and available for streaming on ESPN+.

“That’s pretty awesome to just kind of solidify that depth and that ability to perform and make it to the national meet, for not just one guy or two guys, but for three guys," said McManus, who finished with the fifth-fastest time (8:40.18.) at regionals.

This is the second appearance for McManus and the third for Taylor at nationals. Last year, the third representative was Bozeman native Duncan Hamilton, who finished second overall.

"It was pretty special to have three qualify for the second year in a row in the steeplechase," Bobcats coach Lyle Weese said. "It’s really a testament to their hard work and the work they put in on a year-round basis to be able to be three of the twelve in the West Region to make it to nationals."

Taylor, a Laurel High School graduate, finished with the eighth-fastest time (8:45.89) at regionals, which stamped his third straight appearance to nationals.

"Just a lot of consistency for the whole team and just buying into it," Taylor said. "Everyone here is on the same page. We’re all working hard for one goal. It just helps a lot."

Last year, the natinoal meet was held in Austin, Texas. But, it returns to Hayward Field at the University of Oregon for this season. Also held in Oregon in 2022, Taylor has the experience of competing in this event at the same venue from that year.

Smith, a Billings native, will be making his first appearance at Nationals. While McManus and Taylor were favorites to return to Eugene, Smith was seeded 43rd out of 48th at regionals and had an incredible race, finishing with a time of 8:49.21 to grab the final automatic bid.

He was in the same heat as Taylor and followed his fellow Bobcat up until the last stretch to catch that qualifying mark.

"Mid-race, I kind of had a realization that Levi had done this a couple different times before, and I was like, well, if he’s going to go do it a third time, I might as well just follow him around the track a couple times," Smith said with a laugh.

"He’s been building towards this for awhile, and having that success, and being able to have that breakthrough is so awesome," McManus explained. "And, I’m so glad that my teammates are coming to Eugene too."

This group had a stellar month of May — from winning the Big Sky Conference overall team championship for the first time since 2005 on their home track to qualifying for nationals and carrying on the "SteepleU" legacy at regionals.

Smith explained that his choice to run at Montana State coming out of high school was to build on the current success the in-state athletes had brought to the program.

"That’s kind of the reason I came to MSU," Smith said. "I saw two grades above me, a lot of the best Montana kids committing here to run. Duncan and Levi and Ben Perrin, so when I came on my visit it really seemed like the place for me, the next Montanan on the team."