INDIANAPOLIS — Following an historic performance at the Big Sky Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships, Montana senior Erika McLeod is headed to nationals. The Butte High graduate was one of 16 NCAA Championships qualifiers in the pentathlon, which was announced Tuesday evening by the NCAA.
McLeod has had an illustrious collegiate career, winning three individual championships in the pentathlon, being named the Big Sky Championships’ Outstanding Performer on three occasions and holding two school records — not to mention her outdoor accomplishments.
For everything that McLeod has accomplished in her career, though, Tuesday’s announcement was a new level, qualifying for nationals for the first time.
“This has definitely been something that I’ve been hoping to achieve for a long time,” McLeod said. “I’m just so thankful to be in this spot, and for all of the coaches and people around me who have helped me get here.”
“I’m really, really excited for Erika,” head coach Brian Schweyen added. “She’s driven, she’s not afraid to work, she’s not afraid of putting in the extra time. This is a reward for her dedication and hard work, and I’m really proud of what she’s accomplished.”
The multis have been an event Montana athletes have flourished in under Schweyen. In addition to McLeod’s three titles, current Grizzly Jansen Ziola has finished in the top two in her two collegiate seasons, winning the event in 2018 as a freshman and finishing second with the seventh-best score in Big Sky history last week.
Over the past nine years, a Montana athlete has won the pentathlon seven times, including four years in a row. The Grizzlies, though, aren’t just successful at the conference level, and it’s not just McLeod, either.
McLeod currently ranks 11th in the entire nation in the event, Ziola is 22nd. Montana is one of just three schools in all of Division I to have two athletes ranked that high — Georgia, the defending national champions, and Iowa of the Big Ten are the other two.
“Unlike any other sport, in track & field you get to go against the best athletes in your sport, period,” Schweyen said. “When you hit a certain level you want to see how you compare against the best of the best, and in track & field, no matter where you go to school, if you’re good enough you get to do that. In this case, Erika is good enough, and now she gets to see how she competes against the best.”
McLeod won back-to-back Big Sky Conference pentathlon titles in 2016 and 2017 but redshirted in 2018 in hopes of big indoor and outdoor seasons in 2019. She delivered at the indoor championships, finishing in the top two of all five events and setting personal bests in four of them. Her final score of 4,128 was a school, Big Sky Championships and Big Sky Conference record. It was so exceptional that she earned the league’s Outstanding Performer award, given to the top overall performance during the week.
McLeod is the first Griz athlete to qualify for the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships since Austin Emry did in 2014 (heptathlon). She is the first female since Katrina Drennen in 2011 (mile). The 2019 NCAA Championships will take place March 8-9 in Birmingham, Alabama.
“I always thought my chance to qualify for nationals would be in outdoor, because they take more people,” McLeod said. “I think I’m most looking forward to the energy and environment of it. It’s something I haven’t experienced yet, so the newness of it is something I’m excited to see and be around. I can’t wait.”
— Montana Sports Information