Montana, Montana State athletes find podium on final day of Big Sky Championships

(Story by Griz Communications)

MISSOULA — It was fitting that on a day that began with a school record and conference title, it closed with one as well.

As she has done all season, and throughout her career, Hana Feilzer proved that no one in the Big Sky Conference can hang with her in the hammer throw. The senior broke her own school record on Saturday – twice – to win a second title in the hammer throw and be named the meet’s Outstanding Performer. More on Feilzer in a bit, but first, we jump to the end.

Montana didn’t win the entire meet on Saturday – the men finished third and the women placed fourth, both up considerably from their preseason expectations of eighth and seventh, respectively – but you wouldn’t be able to tell by the way the entire team celebrated the Grizzles’ 4×400 victory at the end of the four-day meet.

The Grizzlies’ relay win wasn’t just a victory to cap an eventful week, nor was it about the 10 points that allowed the men to jump Idaho State into third place in the team standings. The excitement really came from the time of 3:09.69 – the fastest in the history of Montana track & field, and also the quickest in Dornblaser Field history.

Even more than that, though, the victory was symbolic. For senior Sterling Reneau, who ran the third leg and erased a 10-meter deficit to put Montana in position to win the race, it was a bit of redemption. The 400 meters is Reneau’s best race, with the Missoula product qualifying for regionals in the event in 2016 and winning an indoor championship in it in 2017.

But on Friday, Reneau placed 14th in the event, failing to qualify for Saturday’s finals and the chance to again reach the podium.

“That was hard for me, to be honest,” Reneau reflected. “That’s not the way I wanted it to go, but I can tell you, standing here right now, to accomplish what we just did, it’s worth it.”

It wasn’t the standalone 400 meters, but Reneau got another crack at the 400-meter race, where he – the son of sprints coach Paul Reneau – got to take one more trip around the track he has been running on since he was 8 years old.

A trio of teams – including Montana – were near the front at the first exchange of the four-lap relay, but that’s where Southern Utah took over, using a perfect exchange to take a commanding 10-meter lead. By the time the second exchange occurred, the gap had been narrowed. Around the second turn, Reneau took over, and by the third corner, he had put the Grizzlies in front for the first time.

Montana was the first to make the final exchange, but Northern Colorado quickly catapulted to the lead. Xavier Melice shrewdly followed the lead runner until the final turn, making up two full strides and passing him in the final straightaway for an historic victory.

For Reneau, his final race at Dornblaser Field will, no doubt, be special.

“I felt like I had all of Missoula behind me,” Reneau said. “It wasn’t just me running that race. We have so much support and I just wanted to leave everything I had on this track. You can do amazing things when you’re running for somebody else.”

The previous school record in the event was set in 2015. Reneau – then a freshman – was part of the four-person relay team that ran a time 3:11.31. He was the baby of the team, running with a group of upperclassmen, including fifth-year senior Drew Owens.

Now Reneau is the fifth-year senior. He’s left his mark, allowing the three freshmen he made history with – Melice, Cade Johnstone and Paul Johnstone – to form their roles on Griz teams for years to come. Perhaps in a few years, they – along with another young Griz runner – will break the record again, continuing the process over and over.

TEAM SUCCESS
Montana’s 96-point, third-place finish on the men’s side was impressive, especially considering where the league’s coaches picked them in the preseason (eighth) and where they finished a year ago (ninth). The 96 points are the team’s most since 2007, and nearly the same amount the Grizzlies had in 2017 and 2018 combined.

The women finished fourth with 88 points, a year after they placed 10th after redshirting a handful of top athletes. The 184 combined points were the most Montana has scored in a single meet since 2014, and the second-most in the past 15 years.

“Where we were a month ago to where we are today is miles and miles ahead,” head coach Brian Schweyen said on his team’s progression. “All of the events we needed to score in, we did. We left a few points out there in a few areas, but I thought we put together a really, really good meet across the board.”

While Montana graduates a handful of top-level athletes, the majority of their team is returning. The Grizzlies will graduate just 19.8 percent of its point-scorers on the men’s side. On the women’s side, 54.0 percent of its point-scorers are expected to return.

“This is an incredible senior class,” Schweyen said. “They came in with about 25 and they’re going out with 19, and that’s pretty good retention. They’ve been great leaders and have moved this program forward in a very positive way, and have been very competitive. I’m going to miss them very much, and this program will miss them, but their marks have been left.”

FEILZER CONTINUES TO REWRITE HISTORY
Hana Feilzer’s storybook career added another chapter on Saturday, with the senior winning her second title in the hammer throw, in addition to the weight-throw crown she earned in February. Feilzer’s first throw of 205-6 was more than enough to win the title – no one else surpassed 194 feet – but she got better as the meet progressed. All five of her marked throws went at least 200 feet, but it was her fifth throw that was historic, breaking her own school record (208-6).

With a Big Sky championship, NCAA regionals berth and new school record locked up, Feilzer still had more in her. In her final throw at Dornblaser Field, Feilzer broke her own school record – again – with a mark of 209-10. It was the fifth-best performance in Big Sky history and puts Feilzer at 10th on the 2019 NCAA West Region performance list (22nd nationally).

“I’ve been shooting for that all season long, and coming off a meet like this, I think it can push me toward nationals,” Feilzer said. “Today was so fun, and I love having a crowd that big cheering me on. They fuel me, and I thank all of them for being out here.”

Added Schweyen: “That’s the best series she’s ever put together. She was dialed in, and she needs that same mindset going into regionals and nationals. The goal is to not make any meet bigger than another, and that’s what she did here. If she does that, I think she can have a pretty exciting competition at the national level.”

OTHERS ON THE PODIUM
The attention was on Feilzer and the men’s 4×400 relay team, but Montana had several additional podium finishers who had great performances on Saturday. Jensen Lillquist established a lifetime-best-throw in the javelin by 6 feet to place second in the event. His throw of 232-5 currently ranks 11th in the NCAA West Region. In addition to Melice’s anchor leg of the relay team, he also earned his first individual medal, placing second in the 200 meters. Carla Nicosia finished second as well, in the high jump, while Jane Booth (high jump), Olivia Ellis (400-meter hurdles) and Maryn Lowry (1,500 meters) placed third.

CHAMPIONSHIPS IN MISSOULA
For the first time since 2009, Montana was the host of the Big Sky Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships. In addition to perfect weather, the four-day event went very smoothly.

“It was a great meet, and I heard from several coaches from a lot of different schools who thought this was one of the best meets they’ve been to in a very long time. They were very appreciative for how it was handled all the way down, which says a lot about our department and everyone who had their hands on this meet. I also want to thank the community for coming out and supporting us, and really making a difference.”

Below is a look at Montana’s event-by-event performances from Saturday:

Women’s high jump: Jane Booth had her best jump of the season, clearing 5-8.5 to reach the podium with a third-place finish. Booth made it look easy early on, clearing the bar at 5-5, 5-6, 5-7.25 and 5-8.5 on her first attempts. It was a bit of redemption for Booth, who entered the 2018 Championships seeded No. 2 before finishing ninth. This year, she came in at fifth, before improving on her final ranking. It was Booth’s second podium finish of her career, joining her third-place finish as a freshman in 2017. Montana’s Abby Dodge placed 11th, clearing 5-5.

Men’s pole vault: Senior Charlie Bush scored in the pole vault for the second year in a row, placing sixth (15-1.75). He cleared his initial two heights on his first attempts.

Women’s triple jump: Junior Carla Nicosia had a breakthrough performance in the triple jump, showing her elevation from earlier in her career. Nicosia had previously competed in the event twice, but had never finished above 14th place. In 2019, Nicosia increased her distance by nearly two feet, which resulted in a runner-up finish on Saturday. Nicosia’s final three marked jumps all went for at least 39 feet, including a top distance of 39-9.25.

“Adam (Bork) has done a nice job, making a couple key, technical changes, which has allowed her to be more consistent,” Schweyen said. “Carla has taken it to a new level mentally and with her confidence. Her last two jumps were the best two jumps, into a headwind. That’s Carla being tough.”

Sophomores Abby Dodge (37-10.5) and Rachel Lewis (37-7.25) finished in the top 13.

Men’s triple jump: Jacob Price had an initial jump of 42-2.25. He placed 17th.

Men’s shot put: All three of Montana’s throwers advanced to the finals (top nine), with two scoring points for the Griz. Brent Yeakey placed fifth with a top throw of 55-10.5, while freshman Noah Ramirez finished seventh at 53-8.5. Ramirez has had a strong freshman season, and solidified that by out-performing his pre-Championship ranking. Yeakey collected points in both of his events this week, also placing fifth in the discus on Friday. As a freshman in 2018, Yeakey placed fourth in the shot put.

Women’s discus: Montana had a pair of throwers ranked in the top five in the discus entering the week, but it another one, senior Kayla Holmes, who came away with points. The Plains, Montana, native was within two inches of a season-best throw, finishing in seventh at 146-6. Holmes had a strong final meet, also placing sixth in the shot put on Friday. Holly Houston (142-4) and Hana Feilzer (142-0) unfortunately were well below their season averages, finishing 11th and 12th, respectively.

Women’s hammer throw: Not to be lost on Feilzer’s record-breaking performance was Mariah Harvey, who scored a point with an eighth-place finish. She did so on her first throw of 166-9. Harvey, a junior, also scored in the shot put on Friday. Additionally, Kayla Holmes had a lifetime-best in the hammer throw (162-5).

Men’s javelin: Jensen Lillquist, a two-time champion in the javelin, didn’t come away with a third individual title on Saturday, but his performance was remarkable. The senior placed second with a lifetime-best throw of 232-5. Lillquist’s previous best was 226-5, and his mark on Saturday was a season best by nearly 20 feet, showing he’s finding his groove entering NCAA Regionals. Lillquist has qualified for regionals three times – narrowly missing a trip to nationals twice – and will get another opportunity this year. Saturday’s mark ranks 11th in the NCAA West Region.

“It was exactly what he wanted to do and needed to do,” Schweyen said of Lillquist. “With his back, he hasn’t been able to throw for a month, but to come out with hardly any reps is awfully impressive. That guy spends more time thinking about that event and visualizing reading and studying, and it shows.”

Dylan Kipp had a lifetime-best throw of 197-7 to place sixth. Brendan Thurber-Blaser, the champion of the decathlon on Thursday, also scored with a PR of 10 feet (197-2, eighth). Nathan Graves placed 14th (170-9).

Men’s 100 meters: Senior Alex Mustard scored for the ninth time in his career with a race of 10.74 (sixth).

Men’s 200 meters: Competing at his first outdoor Championships, freshman Xavier Melice qualified on Friday for both the finals of the 200 meters and 400 meters. Melice came up from behind to sneak past Northern Colorado’s Antoine Coats and finish second (21.59). It was Melice’s first podium finish of his young career.

Women’s 800 meters: Montana had a pair of scorers in the women’s 800 meters, with Carly Smiedala placing fourth (2:10.33) and Megan Franz finishing seventh (2:13.11). Smiedala has now placed in the top four of the event in all three of her collegiate seasons, but her finish on Saturday will definitely fuel her for her senior year, where the Montana school-record-holder and 2018 champion will look to get back on top.

Men’s 800 meters: One of the most-exciting surprises on the week was the performance of Noah Adams, who scored three points with a sixth-place finish in the 800 meters (lifetime-best 1:52.08). Adams was seeded 15th entering the meet before breaking through on Friday and advancing to the finals. He improved his time and place once again on Saturday.

Women’s 1,500 meters: In her first Big Sky Championships, Iowa State graduate transfer Maryn Lowry put points on the board with a strong run in the 1,500 meters. Her time of 4:30.95 gave her a podium finish (third). Lowry was in the midst of a six-runner pack through the first three laps, before separating herself among the top three.

Women’s 5,000 meters: Junior Samantha Engebretsen placed 12th out of 30 entries, with a lifetime-best time of 17:42.05.

Women’s 100-meter hurdles: Montana picked up five points in the 100-meter hurdles, with Morgan Sulser placing fifth (13.99) and Jansen Ziola adding a point. Ziola did so despite going down after clipping a hurdle. Sulser’s time was two-tenths of a second quicker than Friday’s prelim run, which was her PR.

Women’s 400-meter hurdles: Olivia Ellis earned her first podium finish of her outdoor career, placing third with a season-best time of 1:00.20.

Men’s 400-meter hurdles: Callum Macnab scored once again, placing eighth in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 53.46.

Men’s 400 meters: Freshman Xavier Melice placed fourth in the 400 meters with a personal-best time of 47.45. Fellow freshman Paul Johnstone originally finished fifth, but the four points were wiped when he was ruled disqualified (Rule 5-4.1).

Women’s 4×100-meter relay: Montana ran a season-best time of 47.51 and finished seventh. The team was made up of Olivia Ellis, Hannah Kearns, Jansen Ziola and Morgan Sulser.

Men’s 4×100-meter relay: Made up of Kip Krebsbach, Sterling Reneau, Callum Macnab and Alex Mustard, Montana placed fourth with a time of 41.12, easily the group’s best performance of the season.

Women’s 4×400-meter relay: In the final race of Megan Franz and Erika McLeod’s careers, they – along with juniors Olivia Ellis and Carly Smiedala – ran a season-best time by 8 seconds (3:47.96), placing fifth despite being seeded ninth. The Grizzlies also did so despite having to replace Jansen Ziola after she injured herself in the 100-meter hurdles.

Montana’s point-scorers (men):
10, Brendan Thurber-Blaser, 1st, decathlon
8, Jensen Lillquist, 2nd, javelin
8, Xavier Melice, 2nd, 200 meters
8, Matt Quist, 2nd, high jump, second
6, Aidan Diggs, 3rd, decathlon
5, Xavier Melice, 4th, 400 meters
5, Josh Riley, 4th, decathlon
4, Shawn Humphries, 5th, hammer throw
4, Callum Macnab, 5th, 400-meter hurdles
4, Brent Yeakey, 5th, discus
4, Brent Yeakey, 5th, shot put
3, Noah Adams, 6th, 800 meters
3, Charlie Bush, 6th, pole vault
3, Dylan Kipp, 6th, javelin
3, Alex Mustard, 6th, 100 meters
2.5, Cade Johnstone, 1st, 4×400 relay
2.5, Paul Johnstone, 1st, 4×400 relay
2.5, Xavier Melice, 1st, 4×400 relay
2.5, Sterling Reneau, 1st, 4×400 relay
2, Noah Ramirez, 7th, shot put
1.25, Kip Krebsbach, 4th, 4×100 relay
1.25, Sterling Reneau, 4th, 4×100 relay
1.25, Callum Macnab, 4th, 4×100 relay
1.25, Alex Mustard, 4th, 4×100 relay
1, Brendan Thurber-Blaser, 8th, javelin

Montana’s point-scorers (women):
10, Hana Feilzer, 1st, hammer throw
10, Erika McLeod, 1st, heptathlon
8, Carla Nicosia, 2nd, triple jump
6, Jane Booth, 3rd, high jump
6, Olivia Ellis, 3rd, 400-meter hurdles
6, Maryn Lowry, 3rd, 1,500 meters
6, Jansen Ziola, 3rd, long jump
5, Darby Henthorn, 4th, javelin
5, Carly Smiedala, 4th, 800 meters
4, Morgan Sulser, 5th, 100-meter hurdles
3, Kayla Holmes, 6th, shot put
3, Jansen Ziola, 6th, heptathlon
2, Megan Franz, 7th, 800 meters
2, Kayla Holmes, 7th, discus
2, Jaree Mane, 7th, heptathlon
1, Olivia Ellis, 5th, 4×400 relay
1, Megan Franz, 5th, 4×400 relay
1, Mariah Harvey, 8th, hammer throw
1, Mariah Harvey, 8th, shot put
1, Erika McLeod, 8th, long jump
1, Erika McLeod, 5th, 4×400 relay
1, Carly Smiedala, 5th, 4×400 relay
1, Jansen Ziola, 8th, 100-meter hurdles
0.5, Olivia Ellis, 7th, 4×100 relay
0.5, Hannah Kearns, 7th, 4×100 relay
0.5, Jansen Ziola, 7th, 4×100 relay
0.5, Morgan Sulser, 7th, 4×100 relay

Men’s team standings:
1. Southern Utah – 135.33
2. Northern Arizona – 134
3. Montana – 96
4. Idaho State – 92
5. Idaho – 81
6. Eastern Washington – 66
7. Montana State – 64.5
8. Weber State – 49.33
9. Northern Colorado – 48.5
10. Sacramento State – 38
11. Portland State – 8.33

Women’s team standings:
1. Sacramento State – 144
2. Weber State – 116
3. Southern Utah – 115
4. Montana – 88
5. Montana State – 70
6. Northern Arizona – 65
7. Eastern Washington – 61
8. Idaho State – 57
9. Idaho – 45
10. Northern Colorado – 36
11. Portland State – 21
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Jack Ginsburg

Jack Ginsburg

Jack was born and raised in Walnut Creek, California. After skiing in Montana for a number of years he found his way to the University of Montana and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism in 2017. Jack's passion for sports stems from playing a number of them and attending multiple sporting events in the Bay Area from the San Jose Sharks and the Golden State Warriors to the San Francisco Giants and the 49ers. He joined KAJ/KPAX-TV in January 2017 as a news reporter before moving to the weekend sports anchor. In his free time he enjoys playing golf, cooking, skiing and hiking with his bulldog Zeke. If you would like to submit a story or complain about the Golden State Warriors to Jack you can email him at jginsburg@kpax.com or find him on twitter @jackginsburg13 (https://twitter.com/jackginsburg13)
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