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Four Montana Grizzlies recap 'rewarding' Big Sky champion runs, look to make splash at NCAA West Regional

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Posted at 6:03 PM, May 20, 2023

MISSOULA — The University of Montana saw four student-athletes walk away as Big Sky Conference outdoor track and field champions last week in Greeley, Colorado.

Leading the way for the Griz was javelin thrower and Kalispell product Evan Todd, who is now a conference champ in back-to-back seasons.

"It felt a lot different. Last year it kind of came at the last moment, and just going in this year, I didn't really know what I was going to throw but I knew damn well that I was going to come out on top," Todd said. "I knew that I was going to win just going into the meet, and after that first throw, I just kind of led the momentum throughout the entire meet."

The season isn't over either, as Todd and six of his teammates are now bound for the NCAA Outdoor West Regional this coming week in Sacramento, California where they will represent UM.

Todd has been there before, and currently he ranks 14th in this year's field with a throw of 226 feet, 7 inches, with the top 12 placers at regionals advancing to the outdoor national championships in Austin, Texas in June.

That national meet is a goal he's had his eyes set on for a long time.

"I'm feeling the best I've ever felt as a collegiate (javelin) thrower," Todd said. "Just looking back the last two years my body was a little bit banged up towards the end of the year, and I'm feeling great.

"I'd say this year is retaliation when it comes to regionals. Last two years, I kind of go there and I kind of look at the big picture, kind of see myself like sinking into the bleachers a little bit watching these big throwers and this year I feel like I can really compete, put out some good marks and compete with the big dogs. Saw lots of growth this year. I said I was going to continue to build and that's just what I did, and then another conference championship in the books, and now it's time to get to nationals.

He added with a smile," Feeling loose, mobile, agile, hostile."

The conference championships saw some breakthrough performances for some Grizzlies.

Included in that is hurdlers Holly Sudol and Jaydon Green, two seniors closing out their college careers this season, who finally achieved that mountaintop.

For Sudol, staying healthy, and getting back-to-back track seasons played a big role in her success and this regional opportunity after winning the conference championship in the 400 hurdles.

"Its definitely rewarding to see my progression go up, basically, and get better as time went on," Sudol said. "I know that's not always how people's careers go so I'm really glad that's how mine went and just see all of the hard work pay off.

"I'm excited (for regionals). I was telling my coach I hope there's one girl that runs at least three seconds faster than the second-fastest person and I hope she's in my heat. I want that competition, I want to run as fast as I can because you never know when it's your last race."

Sudol ranks 39th heading into the regional with her season-best time of 59.22 seconds in the 400 hurdles.

For Green, it was a similar experience with his successes coming in his final run as he was crowned Big Sky champion in the men's 110 hurdles.

"It was unbelievable," Green said. "It was something I've been chasing for so long. I've told people I've always been chasing a win in something. I've never won anything big in my life, like state championships always came up short, all the Big Sky championships before I came up short, and I always knew I could win it one day so it was nice I stuck on for this long and finally got it out.

"I try to keep myself together, but all of those emotions came up and it was incredible, I can't even put it to words. Like the amount of happiness and joy I felt was just unbelievable. I think like all of the hard moments and all of that pain I went through, it was finally like, 'Oh my gosh,' it was worth it. Finally it all came together so it was nice."

Now, it's about keeping a calm, stress-free attitude heading into regionals, similar to what he did a week ago.

"I think the pressure part is a big part of people's performances and a big downfall of some people, they just put too much pressure on themselves, so I think honestly just going out and having fun is going to be the best thing for me," Green said. "Like at conference, I just went out and enjoyed myself and had a great time and the times came. Especially my last meet potentially, just go out there and enjoy the sport I've been doing my whole life."

Green — who owns Montana's school record in the 110 hurdles — enters ranked 34th in the event with a time of 13.86 seconds.

Rounding out the four champs is the youngest of them all in Whitefish product and freshman Erin Wilde, who took home the gold in the women's high jump.

Her first year in college has been a large learning curve in general, but after dealing with growing pains in the indoor season, Wilde settled in and thrived in her first outdoor campaign.

"I would say I was fairly confident in I learned from indoor season when I was super nervous, and I was like, 'Oh, I'm younger than these girls,'" Wilde explained. "I just shut down during the indoor conference meet. I was angry, I would say, with how I did, and I just knew I wanted to do better and I think that prepared me a lot for outdoor and I came in a lot more calm, and I realized over the season like you can't be angry with the days you can't jump as high, you just have to keep pushing, keep going and I did that at conference and I was really happy."

Wilde added that the support she received from her teammates also helped her get to this point.

"When I realized how young I was compared to the rest of the people up there, I took a breath and then my whole team came and gave me a huge hug and I was like I really want to feel that again," she said. "So I definitely want to push harder and jump higher and I definitely want to achieve that goal again of just making it on the podium and returning to the Big Sky Conference (championship).

"I think overall our team has helped me so much adapt to the new lifestyle and new place and super happy to have their support.

Joining the four conference champs for UM at the regional will be pole vaulters Zane Johnson and Shealyne McGee. Todd will be joined by fellow javelin thrower Matthew Hockett as well.

So now, the journey continues for Griz track and field, with this group looking to make a bigger splash, and put Montana on the map.

"I think it's really special, because you see that this team is not just one group," Sudol said. "I know in the past it's been just throwers who have attended regionals and now you can see that we have people who are outstanding in many different ways in different event groups. I think it's really exciting to see all of that hard work of our group pay off."