Erika McLeod repeats as Big Sky pentathlon champ

POCATELLO, Idaho — Montana’s three-day quest to win its first women’s team title at the Big Sky Conference indoor track and field championships got off to a great start on Thursday.

Junior Erika McLeod won the pentathlon for the second straight year and senior Nicole Stroot finished second at Idaho State’s Holt Arena to give the Grizzlies an early boost in the team standings. Pent results Hep results

“It feels good. And it’s a relief in a way,” said McLeod, a Butte High graduate. “I went into today pretty nervous. More than anything it’s because our women’s team is in such a good position. I just really wanted to do my part.”

She did by becoming Montana’s fifth pentathlon champion in the last seven years and by scoring a career-best 3,955 points, just 14 off the Big Sky championships record and Lindsey Hall’s school record.

“Erika is a gamer, without a doubt,” said UM coach Brian Schweyen. “She and Nicole both are tremendous competitors. They did exactly what they expected to do and what everyone else foresaw them doing.”

The Grizzlies got rolling early, as both Stroot and McLeod had PRs in the opening event, the 60-meter hurdles. Stroot topped the field of 18 with a time of 8.65. McLeod tied for fourth at 8.95.

McLeod matched Idaho State’s Bailey Woodbury for the top finish in the high jump at 5-5.75, equaling her career best, then took the lead for good with a winning shot put of 37-1.75, another PR.

“(Assistant coach Adam Bork) and Brian talk to us a lot about being confident and more than anything being relaxed,” said McLeod. “Going into the shot put I knew I needed to really focus and just relax, because I had been pretty tense.

“Once that event was over, it gave me a lot more confidence going through the rest of the day.”

McLeod had the day’s top marks in both the long jump (18-5.75) and 800 meters (2:17.09) to finish 179 points ahead of Stroot, who raced her way to second place with a PR in the 800.

Stroot trailed Woodbury by 23 going into the final event, or nearly two seconds’ worth of points in the 800.

Pulled along by McLeod’s winning pace, Stroot ran a 2:21.99. Woodbury clocked a 2:32.35 to finish 110 points behind Stroot, who improved two spots upon last winter’s fourth-place finish.

“We had a good handle on where everyone was sitting going into the 800,” said Schweyen. “Erika was going to go out, and Nicole was going to hang with her. We figured it would take a pretty impressive performance out of (Woodbury) to stay ahead of Nicole.”

McLeod and Stroot were expected to go 1-2. That they did gives the Grizzlies 18 points in the team standings with two days of championship events still to come.

“I think it was really important. I told Nicole before the 800 that it’s really cool that we’re in this position,” said McLeod. “It should excite people and get them ready to compete. Hopefully everyone will feed off this the next two days.”

Through four events of the two-day men’s heptathlon, freshman Brendan Thurber-Blaser is sitting third with 2,929 points. He trails Montana State’s Mason Storm, who scored 3,015 points, and Portland State’s Donte Robinson, who totaled 2,957.

Thurber-Blaser had PRs in the day’s first three events, the 60 meters, long jump and shot put, but gave up points to the leaders after going out in the high jump at 6-0.75, four inches off his season best.

“Brendan didn’t have his best day in the high jump, but when you look at what he did in the other three, with three PRs, it was an excellent first day,” said Schweyen. “He’s a great competitor and is having a great meet so far.”

Thurber-Blaser ran a 7.29 in the 60 meters, finished third at 22-6.25 in the long jump and had the day’s best shot put by more than two and a half feet, going 44-2.5.

The high jump was won by Thurber-Blaser’s freshman teammate Josh Riley, who matched his season best by clearing 6-6.75.

Riley is in eighth place with 2,724 points, just 30 out of sixth. Junior Charlie Bush is in ninth with 2,682 points. He closed day one by tying for third in the high jump at 6-4.25, less than an inch off his PR.

“Josh and Charlie ended on a good note, so we have some guys in scoring positions, which is what we’re looking for,” said Schweyen.

The heptathlon concludes on Friday with the 60-meter hurdles, pole vault and 1,000 meters.

— Montana Sports Information