Montana State men, women lead Big Sky track championships; records fall on Day 3

Posted at 10:51 PM, May 10, 2024
and last updated 2024-05-11 01:52:28-04

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

BOZEMAN — With three days in the books at the 2024 Big Sky Conference Men’s and Women’s Outdoor Track & Field Championships, the Montana State Bobcats currently sit in first place in the race for both titles with one day of competition left.

Montana State’s men have racked up 80 points, with a large lead over Weber State (48 points) and Northern Arizona (33). The Bobcats are seeking their first men’s title since 2005.

On the women’s side, the race is much tighter. The Bobcats have 49.5 points, followed closely by Northern Arizona with 47.5. MSU’s women haven’t claimed a Big Sky title since 2003. Northern Arizona is the defending champion.

Two Big Sky championship records fell on Friday. Montana’s Evan Todd had a javelin throw of 75.13 meters (246 feet, 6 inches) to set a new championship record in the first event of the day.

In the men’s pole vault, Montana State’s Colby Wilson cleared 5.42 meters (17-9¼) to set a new championship best for the Bobcats.

Competition will continue at 10 a.m. Saturday. The meet is being streamed on ESPN+, with live results carried through AthleticLIVE.

Todd wins third straight javelin title

Todd entered Friday morning men’s javelin in unfamiliar territory. The two-time defending champion broke the Montana school record last month, but despite that still had just the fourth-best seed in the event as the rest of the conference has risen to incredible heights.

The field featured five of the top 20 throwers in the west, and three of them were also in the top 25 nationally.

After the first round of throws, Weber State’s Cody Canard, who has the fourth-best mark in the NCAA this season, led the way at 227-5. In the break between prelims and the final three throws, Todd sat in fourth place with a best mark of 217-11.

He paced the runway in between, javelin in hand. The reigning champion in the event wasn’t pleased with the first three throws, but knew that he had more in him. He took a practice throw on a short run, and felt everything fall into place.

“I just knew something was missing in those first three rounds,” Todd said. “I had to do some soul searching and had to find myself. I took one throw in between prelims and finals and kind of found what I was looking for. I knew I’ve had it in me, it was just a matter of finding it.”

On his first throw of the finals, Todd put together the best throw of a legendary career. He let out a scream, flicking the javelin to the boundaries of the field at the Bobcat Track Complex. They pulled the tape tight and announced the distance. 75.13 meters, or 246-6 feet.

The throw broke not only Todd’s previous school record of 234-5, but also the Big Sky Conference’s Championship record. He had to hold on for three throws apiece from the top three in the competition, but none threatened his record mark and Todd won the competing by a full 10 feet.

The throw is something that Fraley won’t soon forget.

“I’m the son of a 50-year track coach, and have been to a lot of track meets in my life. Watching Evan Todd hit that throw in round four to break the Big Sky meet record, to break his school record, and win for the third time in a row was one of the finest things I’ve ever been around,” Fraley said. “It couldn’t happen to a better guy, and I’m so proud that it’s a Montana guy and I’m just really happy for that young man.”

It's the third straight title for the Kalispell product in the event, making him the first Griz athlete since Jas Gill in the high jump from 2003-2005 to win three in a row. He’s just the sixth male Grizzly to win the same event three times at the conference level.

Todd’s throw is the 11th best in the NCAA this season and moves him into the top 10 in the West region. The mark also automatically qualifies him for the USA Olympic Trials.

“I’m sure I surprised a lot of people today, I surprised myself even, I wasn’t expecting to hit that 75-meter mark but it’s special to do it here in Bozeman,” Todd said. “ I mean, that auto qualifying mark for the trials is going to be really cool going down there and competing against the big dogs.”

Before he heads to the Olympic trials, however, Todd will be competing in the NCAA West Regionals in Fayetteville, Ark. in two weeks. He’s been aiming for a trip to nationals his entire career, and will have the chance to do that as he enters with a top 12 mark.

“Sky is the limit,” Todd said. “I’m not going to put a limit on myself. I know what I’m capable of and I know that I can compete out there with guys throwing 80 meters, I just know it’s in me.”

UM's Wilde makes it three in a row

Erin Wilde shocked the conference last year by winning the women’s high jump as a freshman. The Whitefish product then went to the indoor championships in Spokane this year and did it again.

Entering Friday’s competition, Wilde was the heavy favorite in the league to make it three straight. The sophomore did it with ease, clearing 5-7 on just her second attempt to win her third overall championship.

“It feels really good,” Wilde said. “I had a big target on my back I feel like, and knew that the other girls wanted to beat me but I knew that I had to be there. Like Erica said, I just need to by myself, have fun with it, and keep pushing.”

She entered with a mark that nearly three inches ahead of the closest competition. That alone would have put a target on her back, but the previous championships added even more pressure.

The sophomore handled all of it, remaining composed and jumping well to earn her third title. The Montana school record holder will now head to Fayetteville for the NCAA West regional meet.

“It’s difficult to win when you’re the favorite a lot of times,” Fraley said. “This is three times in a row that she’s showed up at this meet and come away with a victory. She’s in a good groove right now and has had an amazing season that is going to move now to the NCAA First Rounds in Arkansas. There is so much value in being able to go out and be consistent and jump with confidence.”

Wilde, similar to Todd, is ready for the big challenge that the regional meet brings with it. She qualified as a freshman and will be making a return trip this year. She’s currently tied for 21st with her best mark of the year, but is within an inch of the top 12 and a potential trip to nationals.

“I don’t think there is a limit, as long as you keep pushing yourself and as long as you are yourself in what you do, you will achieve what you want,” Wilde said.

McManus, Wilson shine for MSU

Wilson's Big Sky Championship meet record put an exclamation point on a packed Friday, and cemented Wilson's case as one of the best Big Sky pole vaulters in the conference's history. The mark broke the meet record of 17-09 that was set in 2013 by Idaho State's Michael Arnold.

"It felt good," Wilson said. "I've had a lot of ups and downs--mostly downs after [indoor] conference--so it feels good to come out and clear a bar, even if it didn't go so well on the last one. I was just trying to focus. I had a good practice earlier this week so I was just trying to execute the cues and the stuff we were working on in that practice. It worked well so I was just trying to focus and relax."

Wilson had already clinched the Big Sky title with a jump of 5.29 meters to best Montana's Zane Johnson, but continued on to try and go for the meet record. On his third and final attempt at 5.42 meters, the senior from Olympia, Washington, executed a perfect vault to clear the bar, leading to a rare show of emotion from the normally reserved veteran.

"He's been such an elite pole vaulter for so many years, I think sometimes it's easy to take him for granted for how good he's been and overall how consistent," Coach Lyle Weese said.

"The start of this outdoor season I think he was going through a little bit of ups and downs—pretty small up and downs—but I think coming to the Big Sky Conference Championships and having it at home here and competing well here at home was really special for him."

Wilson's gold medal was the third in his historic career, and the first outdoor Big Sky title for the current indoor Big Sky record-holder in the event.

Wilson was one of two Bobcat champions on Friday, as Rob McManus coasted to a win in the 3,000 meter steeplechase to keep Montana State's moniker of 'SteepleU' intact.

McManus, a junior from Cashmere, Washington, made a big move over the final portion of the race and was followed by senior Laurel product Levi Taylor who finished second to give the Cats the 1-2 finish.

"It was a good race," McManus said. "The plan going in was to wait and make a big move with about a kilometer to go, and I think me and my teammates executed that pretty well. We figured that if it was slow enough some other guys would probably take it and we figured it would be slow that first 800 or so if none of us went for it, so it kind of worked out how we imagined.

"I think a lot of us were coming back to the 1,500 meter prelims so just to give us the best shot and be as ready as possible we decided not to go for it in the steeple."

It's the fifth straight year that a Bobcat man has won the steeplechase, after program legend Duncan Hamilton had a four-peat from 2019-2023.

"We've been 'SteepleU' for many years now, and I don't see that going away any time soon," Taylor said. "Lyle's a great steeple coach and I think we'll be on top for a while. Lyle knows what he's doing, he knows how to coach distance runners to be great, it's that simple. Especially with Lyle being a steeplechaser, I take great pride in being a steeplechaser."

A pair of school records fell on Friday for Montana State, with Pat Vailva and Elena Carter shattering their own records in the javelin and 100 meter hurdles, respectively.