Erika McLeod 11th at Big Sky heptathlon

CHENEY, Wash. — Sophomore Nicole Stroot, in 10th place after Wednesday’s opening four events, had a big second day and finished sixth in the heptathlon Thursday as the Big Sky Conference outdoor track and field championships continued.

Erika McLeod, a 2014 Butte High graduate, placed 11th.

Stroot and her three teammates all struggled on Wednesday, as windy, wet, cool weather wrecked havoc on marks. Thursday was ideal: partly cloudy, mild temperatures, minimal winds.

“Yesterday was disappointing,” Stroot said. “So I was very determined today, because I knew I had to make up a lot of ground. I knew today was my events and my time to shine.” And she did all day.

Stroot finished seventh in the long jump at 17-9.75, fourth in the javelin with a career-best throw of 107-2 and sixth in the 800 meters in a hand time of 2:21.7.

She finished with a career-high 4,636 points, which left her just 59 from a top-four finish, and as the top underclassman in the 18-athlete field. Her finish earned the Grizzlies three team points, with the bulk of the championships still to come Friday and Saturday.

Sophomore Lakyn Connors, eighth after day one, finished ninth with 4,473 points. McLeod, who was 14th after the opening day, used a big second day to finish 11th with 4,332.

McLeod finished fifth in the long jump Thursday at 17-11.5 and seventh in the javelin at 101-11, then closed with a time of 2:22.8 to place seventh in the 800 meters.

Montana State senior Carley McCutchen, who won the indoor pentathlon title in February, cruised to her first heptathlon title, scoring 5,273 points. MSU junior Danielle Muri was second with 5,052 points, Sacramento State junior Kassandra Corrigan was third with 4,995.

Stroot needed a solid long jump Thursday to spark her comeback, and she got it when she went 17-9.75 on her third and final attempt. It was almost a foot off her PR, but it was good enough to start her move up the standings.

She climbed up to seventh after throwing the javelin 107-2. Her previous PR in the event of 100-5 was set two weeks ago at the Montana Open.

“The key for my javelin today was just being relaxed,” Stroot said. “I had some really good warm-up throws, and there was no wind when we threw, so conditions were perfect. But the main thing was I was relaxed and determined.”

As often happens at the Big Sky championships with such deep fields, Stroot had plenty of company in the overall standings going into the final event. She was 16 points behind Idaho State senior Shayla Neibauer, who was in sixth, and just 11 ahead of MSU sophomore Jessica Chrisp, who was in eighth.

With every second in the 800 being worth about 14 points, Neibauer, Stroot and Chrisp had little margin for error.

Chrisp pulled ahead of Stroot in the 800’s final meters, finishing fifth to Stroot’s sixth, but her time of 2:21.3 wasn’t quite fast enough to close the point gap. She finished seventh in the final overall standings, six points behind Stroot. Neibauer ran a 2:31.0 to drift down to eighth in the final standings.

“The Bozeman girl was my main target the whole race. I knew I had to run hard for it and get out fast the first lap,” Stroot said.

“But really I just ran my fastest and didn’t pay too much attention to placing. I just knew I needed to run fast, so I focused on myself and finished hard, and it worked out.”

Connors went 16-7 in the long jump, 101-6 in the javelin and 2:27.6 in the 800 meters. Senior Shayle Dezellem finished 17th with 3,819 points. She had final-day marks of 13-9.5, 98-10 and 2:26.0.

Stroot, an unrecruited walk-on from Superior, finished seventh in the pentathlon at the indoor championships last winter and, with a sixth-place finish in the long jump at last spring’s outdoor championships, now has scored points for Montana at three straight championships.

As the highest-scoring underclassman in this week’s heptathlon and with two more years of training and multi-event experiences to come, Stroot should develop into a top-three finisher at future pentathlons and heptathlons, if not challenge for a Big Sky Conference championship.

“I’m really excited about the future, because I feel there is still a lot more I can give,” said Stroot, who will compete in the 100-meter hurdles and long jump on Friday.

“I’m really looking forward to seeing how much I can improve in my consistency and with my marks, and seeing what I can do the next two years. And I’m excited for the rest of the girls too. I feel like we have a bright future in front of us.”

With the heptathlon and men’s decathlon, which was won by Idaho State senior Logan Henderson, complete, the championships now ramp up in intensity.

Friday’s eight field events begin at 10 a.m. (PT) with the men’s hammer. Running events start at 2:10 p.m. (PT) with the women’s steeplechase. The steeplechase races and 10,000 meters are the only track finals Friday. However there are a dozen preliminary races that will feed into Saturday finals.

— Montana Sports Information

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