Erika McLeod wins Big Sky pentathlon championship

Erika McLeod competes for Butte High in this ButteSports file photo.

BOZEMAN — Montana sophomore Erika McLeod won the pentathlon Thursday as the three-day Big Sky Conference indoor track and field championships got underway at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse.

McLeod, a Butte High graduate, had career bests in three of the pentathlon’s first four events, then hammered out an unheard-of 10-second PR in the 800 meters to vault to the top of the standings, finish with 3,882 points and give the Grizzlies their fourth pentathlon champion in the last six years.

“It was really impressive to watch Erika today. She’s just a competitor, and she wanted to win,” said UM multi-events coach Adam Bork. “She needed to run the 800 of her life, and she did. To do this as a sophomore, it’s hard to say how far she’ll take it.”

Junior Nicole Stroot, with three PRs of her own, finished fourth with 3,668 points, a 115-point career best. Junior Lakyn Connors placed 10th with 3,289 points.

Sophomore Charlie Bush is sitting in eighth place through four of seven events in the two-day men’s heptathlon. Freshman Jess Beaman is in 15th.

McLeod, with her career-best score of 3,684 at MSU two weeks ago, entered the championships with the Big Sky’s top point total this season, but even career-best efforts of 9.10 in the 60-meter hurdles and 5-3.25 in the high jump had her looking up the standings at the early leaders.

“I PR’d in my first two events, and I was really excited, but everyone else was PR’ing too,” said McLeod, who was sitting in eighth place after going 35-6.75 in the shot put, which left just the long jump and 800 meters to make up ground. “I knew I had to have a big jump.”

And she came through, going 18-9, the best mark of the day by more than five inches, to move up to second place, still 130 points behind Montana State’s Danielle Rider, a vast gap that could only be bridged by out-running Rider by at least nine seconds in the 800 meters.

“The coaches told me what I would need to do, and I panicked, because that’s a lot of time in that race,” said McLeod. “But then I calmed down. I’d done such a good job to that point of taking it event by event that by the time the 800 rolled around, I was ready to go for it.”

It was no contest. McLeod, whose previous best was 2:22.80, ran an adjusted 2:12.32, a time that only five Big Sky Conference distance runners have eclipsed this winter. Rider’s 2:27.03 wasn’t enough, and McLeod had her first Big Sky multi-events titles. More are on their way.

“Erika never got down on herself or doubted herself today. She stayed confident, so 100 percent of the credit goes to her,” said Bork.

Stroot ranked eighth in the Big Sky going into the pentathlon and finished fourth Thursday, a three-place improvement from her seventh-place finish at last year’s indoor championships at Flagstaff, Arizona.

She opened with a career-best time of 8.78 in the 60-meter hurdles, the fastest time of the day in the 15-athlete field, then went 5-1 in the high jump, a height — more than three inches below her PR — that cost her a shot at the podium.

She came back with a mark of 33-5.25 in the shot put, a 19-inch career best, long jumped 18-3.25 and ran an adjusted 2:21.07 in the 800 meters, her third PR of the day.

“Nicole had lifetime bests in the hurdles and shot put, and it’s just hard to be consistent in everything,” said Bork. “She came back with a good long jump and another lifetime best in the 800, so she had a really good meet.”

Bush entered day one of the heptathlon ranked ninth in the Big Sky, and he overcame lower-than-hoped-for marks in the long jump and shot put to position himself in eighth place going into Friday’s 60-meter hurdles, pole vault and 1,000 meters.

Bush opened with a 7.55 in the 60 meters, then went 19-11.75 in the long jump and 32-11.25 in the shot.

“Charlie can struggle mentally when he’s finishing toward the back of the pack in some of the early events. He has a hard time staying positive, but he did a great job of that today,” said Bork.

Bush would finish his day by clearing 6-4.25 in the high jump, the heptathlon’s third-best height.

“Some of his better events, like the high jump and pole vault, come later in the competition, so if he can stay focused and do his best in the other events, it will help when the heptathlon is over,” added Bork. “He had a really good high jump, so he’s in a good place going into tomorrow.”

Bush has 2,540 points. Idaho’s Drew Thompson leads the heptathlon with a one-day total of 2,842.

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