Montana State men capture first Big Sky outdoor track and field crown since 2005

Montana State track and field
Posted at 7:33 PM, May 11, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-12 00:17:09-04

(Editor's note: Big Sky Conference, Montana State and Montana news releases.)

BOZEMAN — It went down to the final race of the day, and in dramatic fashion the Montana State Bobcats claimed their first Big Sky Conference Men’s Outdoor Track & Field title since 2005 in their home stadium on Saturday afternoon, while the Northern Arizona Lumberjack women completed a four-peat.

Montana State’s men scored 186 points, securing enough in the Men’s 4x400-Meter to claim the team title. Northern Arizona finished as the team runner-up, scoring 185 points which is the most ever scored by a team runner-up.

Northern Arizona’s women scored 240.5 points to secure its fourth title in as many years. The team results were flipped on the women’s side, with Montana State finishing as the runner-up with 134.5 points.

Scoring 28 points in the meet, Northern Colorado’s Jerome Campbell was named Men’s Most Valuable Athlete, while Northern Arizona’s Madeline Wilson was named Women’s Most Valuable Athlete with 25 total points.

Bobcats dethrone Northern Arizona

It came down to one point.

Trailing, 181-176, to 11th-ranked Northern Arizona heading into the final event, Montana State needed some magic.

On their home track, the Bobcats got that magic in the form of a school record-breaking 4x400 meter relay team.

In one of the all-time great Montana State athletics' moments, the Bobcats secured a breathtaking men's team title at the Big Sky Outdoor Track & Field Championships, their first since 2005.

The men's 4x400 meter relay team of Michael Swan Jr., Stryder Todd-Fields, Janis Pohl, and Jett Grundy put everything together to finish with an altitude-converted mark of 3:08.42 in the race, shattering the school record by three seconds.

Grundy's heroic dash down the home straightaway in front of a raucous crowd edged out Montana's anchor leg, giving the Cats' relay squad the gold medal and ten points, while Northern Arizona finished in fifth, recording four points.

Final total? Montana State 186, Northern Arizona 185.

The win secured the Bobcats' first championship since 2005, and just their second-ever in the 60-year history of the Big Sky.

It also broke up a men's Lumberjack dynasty that had won three titles in a row, nine of the last 11, and 12 of the last 16 in the conference.

"It is pretty special," coach Lyle Weese said. "A conference championship would mean a lot in a lot of areas, but here it just means more because of the support that we have. It definitely alleviated a number of years of frustration. (NAU is) such a great team, they are one of the best track programs in the country, so to beat them you have to become one of the better track programs in the country.

"We've spent years building up and building up, and we didn't know if this would be the year, but we knew we were getting stronger and that we were going to make a run at it."

The 186-185 margin was the closest in the history of the championship with that high a point-total. Regardless of the result of the final race, the runner-up was going to break the Big Sky record for most points by a second-place team in conference history.

Weber State finished a distant third with 91 points.

Through Friday's events at Bobcat Track and Field Complex in Bozeman, Montana State had held an 80-33 lead, but knew that Northern Arizona would make a significant charge on Saturday.

The Lumberjacks did just that, piling up podiums and going blow for the blow with the Bobcats—which led to the climactic final 4x400 meter relay race.

Along the way, there were was incredible theater.

In a photo-finish earlier in the afternoon, Bobcat freshman Jett Grundy staged a dramatic comeback over the final stretch of the men's 400 meters to erase a massive lead and lean across the finish line, tumbling headlong into the track.

After the timers went to the replay, Grundy secured the Big Sky title in the 400, the Australian's second gold medal in the event after winning at the indoor championships.

Those thousandths of a second, that extra lean, was a four-point swing—Grundy took ten points for the team total instead of the eight for second place.

"There's a lot of things about this weekend that I won't forget, but one was how far back Jett was with 100 meters to go in a 400 meter race," Weese said. "Usually things like that do not happen in the sprint events, where he made up just so much ground and he got the lean and the win in super dramatic fashion.

"That was incredible that he had that poise, he didn't panic, and he just kept running his race and made a run at it. He got some points in the 200, and in the four-by-four, the University of Montana ran a great relay and had a great last leg, and Jett kept his composure. Even though he was four races in, he battled to the finish and was able to hold them off."

Grundy was named Big Sky Outdoor Men's Freshman of the Year after being named Big Sky Indoor Men's Freshman of the Year in February.

Janis Pohl's title-winning run in the 400 meter hurdles also provided great theater, as the senior from Frankfurt, Germany, ran an altitude-converted time of 51.32 to blow away the competition and earn an emotional gold medal. The second-fastest time in school history meant something more, as Pohl was competing in his first-ever conference championship meet after four years of battling back from injury.

Maybe the most pivotal race of the day was the men's 5,000 meters, an event that national distance running behemoth Northern Arizona has dominated in recent years.

One night after two gritty Bobcat veterans in Ben Perrin and Matthew Richtman earned podium spots in the 10,000 meters, the duo did the same in the 5,000 meters, with Perrin earning silver and Richtman closing strong to earn bronze.

"Ben and Matt in both the 10k and the 5k, we're always up against it," Weese said. "In past years we've had the lead, six or seven years ago, and we couldn't quite hold it in the 5k. This year I knew we were going to be up against it, too, because they have such great depth.

But Matt' and Ben ran such an incredible race in the 5k, ended up getting second and third, and kept us in the meet. That's almost certainly NAU's strongest event, so for us to go in there and break it up and keep us in the team race was pretty amazing."

Other All-Conference honorees included Destiny Nkeonye, who followed up his bronze medal in the long jump on Friday with a bronze medal in the triple jump on Saturday—likely punching his ticket to NCAA Regionals with a leap of 50-04.50, the third-best mark in school history.

Matt Furdyk added six points with a bronze medal in the hammer throw, and teammate Elijah Jackman finished second in the shot put to earn silver. Jackman, a sophomore from Tigard, Oregon, also placed fourth in the hammer throw and sixth in the discus to contribute 16 points overall in the meet.

The Montana State men were able to pull off the upset in part by feeding off an electric home-tilted crowd that packed into Bobcat Track and Field Complex.

"It was amazing competing in front of the home crowd, you've got my family up there, a bunch of Montana State alumni watching and cheering us on," Swan said of the final 4x400 meter relay race. "I couldn't ask for a better place to have conference than Bozeman, Montana, with everyone cheering. It was loud, it was super loud, and I love it, love the atmosphere, love that everyone was here supporting us."

On the women's side, the Bobcats finished runner-up for the fifth straight conference competition, placing second behind Northern Arizona, who won the Big Sky outdoor title for the seventh time in the last eight seasons.

Montana State finished with 134.5 points as a team, their most at the Big Sky Outdoor Championships since 2015.

Helena native Elena Carter capped her final home meet at Bobcat Track and Field Complex in style, winning the 100 meter hurdle crown in record fashion less than 24 hours after setting the mark in her preliminary race.

The senior crossed the in an eye-popping time of 13.31, converting to 13.35 with an altitude adjustment.

The gold medal marked the seventh Big Sky title for one of the most decorated athletes in school history, and the 13th All-Conference honor for the versatile standout. Carter contributed 17 points on the week for the Bobcat women, with ten in the 100 meter hurdles, six in the long jump via a bronze medal in that event, and an eighth place finish in the 100 meters.

The Bobcats racked up several podiums across all event groups, from the jumps to the throws to the sprints.

Billings senior Maisee Brown picked up her fourth career medal with a runner-up finish in the pole vault, clearing 13-09.00 to improve on her No. 2 mark in school history in the process.

Fellow Billings product Jaeden Wolff finished runner-up in the 100 meters, earning a silver medal and All-Big Sky honors. Wolff went on to take seventh in the 200 meters, contributing nine points to the team total.

After finishing second at the indoor championships in the 400 meters, sophomore Caroline Hawkes finished second on Saturday to pick up another silver medal—not her only one of the day.

The Bobcat women's 4x400 meter relay team of Jadyn VanDyken, Kalei Moravitz, Giulia Gandolfi, and Hawkes broke the school record with an altitude-adjusted time of 3:38.37, breaking the old mark by nearly two whole seconds.

That school record earned them a runner-up finish in the event, with more silver medals for a Cats' relay team that placed second at indoors in Spokane.

Bozeman native and freshman Clara Fox got the day started for Montana State with a runner-up finish in the javelin, as her heave of 149-03 was more than enough to get the Bozeman High School product on the podium for a silver medal in her first conference championship meet.

Teammate Tristen Sedgwick, a product of Worden, Montana, placed third in the discus to snag a bronze medal, as her sixth and final throw of 155-02 catapulted her onto the podium. The bronze marked the second year in a row that Sedgwick finished her season the podium, after placing third at the 2023 Big Sky Outdoor Championships as well.

Relay records fall as Griz beat expectations

Montana broke a pair of school records in the relay and placed three more athletes on the podium to build on a great Friday.

It led to exceeded expectations for both the men and the women in the final team standings. Montana’s men finished fourth overall with 74 points, the highest finish in the standings since a third place result at the home meet in 2019. The women finished seventh with 59 points, the best result since 2020.

“I’m really proud of both squads exceeding expectations,” head coach Doug Fraley said. “We all knew we were capable of being better than the projections and we challenged the kids after indoor to step up and improve during the outdoor season so we could get higher finishes and I’m really proud of the kids and staff for coming together and improving our finishes.”

The men were picked fifth in the preseason polls and the women ninth. The Grizzlies also had the meet’s Most Outstanding Performer in Evan Todd. The award is given to the best performance based on the Big Sky’s athlete of the week points table.

Todd broke the championship record and Montana’s school record on Friday with a throw of 246-6 to win his third straight Big Sky title.

The day opened and closed on the track with school records. Montana’s 4x100-meter relay team had already set a program best mark earlier in the year, but were missing two legs of that team in Bozeman.

It was next man up for the Griz. Jay Beagle stepped in for the injured Teagun Holycross in the opening leg, and walk-on freshman Karsen Beitz took over the final leg for Cooper Hewett.

The newcomers delivered, as Montana flew around the track for a new record time of 40.30 seconds. It placed them second in the conference behind Northern Arizona.

“It’s no small thing having to replace a lead-off guy like Teagun in the relay, he’s one of the best in the conference. It was next man up with Jay Beagle and he really stepped up to the task,” Fraley said. “For us to run that race and get a silver medal and run faster than we’ve ever run was just a testament to what competitors those guys are and the true definition of next man up in athletics.”

It got the men off to a good start to the day, but the Grizzlies still trailed Idaho State for fourth place entering the final event of the afternoon. The 4x400 meter relay needed a big result in the last event, and they more than took care of business.

Beagle once again started Montana off well, and passed off to Taylor Johnson. The Grizzlies were right in it midway through the race, and they had two veterans that have been part of Montana history to close it out.

Xavier Melice took from Johnson, and ran the leg of his life. An Achilles injury disrupted the former Freshman of the Year’s career, but in his final meet as a Grizzly he found his pre-injury form.

Melice then handed to another Grizzly that has been through so many peaks and valleys in his career in Paul Johnstone. The duo were both part of the school record team in 2019, and the guided the Grizzlies home to another record.

Johnstone nearly caught the individual 400m champion Jett Grundy, chasing him down and finishing within three-tenths of a Big Sky Championship. The Grizzlies still set a new program record and picked up four more silver medals.

“We talked about breaking that record for the last two year and before the race talked to Jay and Taylor about setting up Xavier and Paul on those last two legs and they did a really good job of that,” Fraley said.

“Xavier ran out of his mind, a 45.7 split on the third leg, and after that Paul brought it home and gave the conference champion everything he could handle all the way to the wire,” Fraley said. “I’m just so proud of those guys for breaking what is a really good school record and breaking it by a lot. It was a big moment to send Xavier and Paul out on an amazing note at the end of their careers.”

The relays weren’t the only All-Conference winners on Saturday.

Lea Moose opened the day well with women’s javelin being the first event of the morning. Moose nearly hit a PR on her final throw of the day, reaching the podium with a throw of 142-2.

She wasn’t the only Grizzly to score in the event. Freshman Ashley Carroll set a new PR with a throw of 136-0 to finish fourth in the event.

“Fantastic start. We talked about creating momentum and riding it, and in the women’s javelin we were slated to get fourth and seventh and both of them stepped up and hit a great series of throws,” Fraley said. “Ashley, a freshman walk-on who joined us at the semester, hits fourth place and Lea in her final collegiate competition makes the podium. Just a really great way to start the day and I’m super proud of those two young ladies.”

Jaydon Green closed out a legendary career that includes the school record in both the indoor and outdoor sprint hurdles with one last run to remember. Green entered the week ranked third in the men’s 110-meter hurdles, but outpaced most of an impressive field.

Green leaned at the line to finish as the runner-up to one of the nation’s top hurdlers and the meet MVP Jerome Campbell. Green ran a 14.20 time, which is faster than any other Grizzly in history outside of himself.

“It’s bittersweet. It’s been a long time coming. I’ve been running away from the end of this sport for a long time,” Green said. “I’ve dedicated myself to this sport and it’s become my life for most of my years and honestly there’s no place I’d rather give 110-percent every day at than Montana.

“I’m so grateful to be able to represent this school and to be able to find the level of success that I did with the people around me is something that I can’t even put into words. It’s special, and it’s something I’ll carry with me the rest of my life.”

The final all-conference performance of the day also came in the field, and it was delivered by sophomore Patrick Kremer in the men’s high jump. Kremer finished all-conference indoors with a mark of 6-8.75, but hadn’t jumped higher than 6-5 so far this outdoor season.

It nearly fell apart for him again on Saturday as he missed twice at 6-2.25, but he recovered with a clearance on his final attempt and then righted the ship. He cleared his third attempt at both 6-6.75 and 6-8 to reach the podium with a third place finish.

The performance also picked up a crucial six points for Montana as a team. The Grizzlies were trailing Idaho State, which had two athletes in point scoring range in the event. Kremer outlasted both of them to give Montana’s relay team a chance to move them up the standings.

“Patrick came up huge for us,” Fraley said. “We were really battling it out with Idaho State, and he had a rough outdoor season and things haven’t gone the way that he had hoped they would since making the podium indoors, but when you’ve got good athletes that are good competitors, they step up for championship moments, and he did that and got back on the podium.”

Montana scored in multiple other events on the track. Xavier Melice finished fourth and Karsen Beitz came in at sixth in the men’s 200m. Paul Johnstone and Jay Beagle finished the 400m in sixth and seventh, respectively.

Mikenna Ells (400m) and Jayel Dovichak (100mH) both finished in seventh in their event finals. The women also finished fifth in the 4x100m relay and fourth in the 4x400m relay.

The Grizzlies were led by a great group of seniors over the course of the week.

“We have a really amazing senior group that are wrapping up their careers here at the University of Montana,” Fraley said. “First class people and outstanding athletes that are going to go on and be really successful in their lives and I’m just really glad that I was able to be around for the last couple of years and just want to say how proud we are of them and wish them the very best as they move forward in life.”

2004 Big Sky Conference outdoor track and field championships

Individual Award Winners

Men’s Most Valuable Athlete: Jerome Campbell, Northern Colorado

Women’s Most Valuable Athlete: Madeline Wilson, Northern Arizona

Men’s Most Outstanding Performer: Evan Todd, Montana

Women’s Most Outstanding Performer: Annika Reiss, Northern Arizona

Men’s Freshman of the Year: Jett Grundy, Montana State

Women’s Freshman of the Year: Hanna Tait, Idaho