Griz track team reloads for future title runs

The Montana track and field program has signed a strong class of 13 prep athletes to National Letters of Intent in an effort to keep its women’s team near the top of the Big Sky Conference.

It won’t be easy. The Grizzlies lost a small but talented senior class, led by heptathlon All-American Lindsey Hall and record-setting and multiple-time Big Sky Conference champion Kourtney Danreuther. The pair helped lead Montana to a runner-up finish at last month’s Big Sky outdoor championships.

A good place to start: Adding Butte’s Erika McLeod, Billings’ Morgan Sulser and Missoula’s Hana Feilzer, three of six signees from the state of Montana. The Grizzlies also added Haley Gellner of Billings, Madison Page of Belgrade and Emma Andrews of Kalispell.

“This is a great recruiting class,” said UM coach Brian Schweyen, “one that we’re super excited about. I think it can be like a Hall- and Danreuther-type class.

“They have a lot of talent and are super competitive, and should allow us to continue what we’ve been doing.”

McLeod, a Butte High graduate who has the look of the Grizzlies’ next excellent multi-events athlete, is coming off a memorable Class AA state meet. She signed with the Grizzlies in February.

McLeod won the 200 meters, 300-meter hurdles, long jump and triple jump last month, and finished second only to Sulser, the best girls prep hurdler in state history, in the 100-meter hurdles. In all, she scored 48 of the Bulldogs’ 50 points at the state meet.

“Erika had a great year, one of the best senior years that anyone has had in the state in a long time,” Schweyen said. “She has the potential to be a really, really good heptathlete.

“She came into the season with junior marks that were pretty good, but what she did this year was fantastic. She’s shown in one year that she is capable of doing some really great things.”

Sulser (Senior HS), the 2013 Gatorade Montana Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year, swept the 100 meters and 100-meter hurdles at the Class AA state meet. She finished second to McLeod in the 300-meter hurdles and finished third in the 200 meters.

Her winning time in the 100 at the state meet of 12.19 set a new all-class record. The 14.11 she ran in the 100-meter hurdles as a junior is also an all-class record.

“She’s fast and the real deal. She’s the best high school hurdler the state has ever seen,” said Schweyen. “I think she can come in right away and make a big impact for us as a short hurdler, long hurdler and sprinter.

“We’ll definitely focus on the 100 hurdles, but she has the type of talent that should allow us to spread her out and help us in a lot of areas.”

Feilzer (Big Sky HS) will give the Grizzlies the same type of versatility, across events not always found in the same athlete. She won the discus at the Class AA state meet and added runner-up finishes in the shot put and high jump. She also competed in the javelin.

“Hana is great all the way around,” Schweyen said. “She jumped 5-5 at state and has thrown 145 feet in the discus. She’s new at the javelin, but I think she can throw that a long ways as well.

“She’s someone who’s pretty good in a lot of areas that don’t always meld together, and that’s not a bad thing. We’ll find out where her interests are and get her going in the right direction.”

Gellner (Skyview HS) was top five in both the 100 and 200 meters at the Class AA state meet as a junior, and Page (Belgrade HS) won the Class A long jump title last month and finished second in the triple jump, an event in which she has gone farther than 37 feet.

Her background is similar to that of Havre’s Sammy Evans, who joined Montana as unheralded signee two years ago and is now the reigning Big Sky indoor and outdoor triple jump champion.

“Haley is one of the top sprinters in the state and has the capability of becoming really good for us, and Madison had a fantastic senior year,” Schweyen said. “She is just starting to get it figured out and could be another great triple jumper for us.”

Andrews (Flathead HS) competes in the jumps.

Montana addressed its middle distance and distance needs with the additions of Christina Seas, of Coldwater, Ohio (Coldwater HS); Rosa Hardarson, of Littleton, Colo. (Littleton HS); and Megan Franz, of Tigard, Ore. (Tigard HS).

Seas, a sub-18-minute cross country runner, will compete at the longer end of the distance spectrum, while Hardarson, who has run a high 56 in the 400 meters, will race the 400 and 800 meters. Franz clocked a time of 2:14.73 in the 800 at the recent Oregon Class 6A state meet.

“This is my first year to really bring in a strong group of girls,” said assistant coach Vicky Pounds, who joined Schweyen’s staff in the summer of 2012.

“I’m excited because it’s a great bunch of girls with a lot of talent. I’m looking forward to developing that talent and having them contribute.”

Claire Dalman, of Crystal Lake, Ill. (Central HS), is an 11-9 pole vaulter, and Jenna Dukovcic, of Longview, Wash. (Mark Morris HS), is an 18-foot long jumper.

Alanna Vann, of Federal Way, Wash. (Todd Beamer HS), has posted times of 12.15 in the 100 meters and 25.26 in the 200. Sabrina Keys, of Spokane, Wash. (North Central HS), had prep bests of 45-7 in the shot put and 135-9 in the discus.

“When you look at what we lost with our seniors, it’s a lot of points to make up. But when you look at what we have returning and the athletes who are coming in, I think a lot of those points are going to be made up,” said Schweyen.

“It’s encouraging that we’re not going to go from a great year to falling off. We’re going to be able to maintain and hopefully continue to climb, and this group of newcomers is going to be a big factor in our success.”

— Montana Sports Information