Keli Dennehy closes career with 24th-place finish at regional

AUSTIN, Texas — Butte High graduate Keli Dennehy’s star-crossed, five-year career as a distance runner at Montana came to a satisfying end Friday night at the NCAA West Regional.

Ranked 47th in the steeplechase out of 48 athletes, Dennehy finished 10th in her heat and 24th overall in a time of 10:36.18 that was just over a second off her PR.

“Keli did a fantastic job coming in and moving up that far. She ran a really good race,” said UM coach Brian Schweyen.

As a true freshman in the fall of 2010, Dennehy was a key member of the Grizzlies’ cross country team that won the Big Sky Conference championship, the program’s first since 1984. She finished fourth overall at that race and seemed destined for greatness.

There were highs over the ensuing years, most recently a third-place finish in the 3,000 meters at the Big Sky indoor championships in February, but her career was largely beset and defined by injury.

Which made it such a feel-good story that she made the cut to regionals in her final season of competition and was on the starting line for the second of three heats Friday night.

“She just wanted to have her nose in it and give herself a chance,” said Vicky Pounds, who helps coach Montana’s distance runners.

Boise State senior Marisa Howard won the heat in a time of 9:59.55. Grabbing the heat’s other two automatic qualifying spots to nationals were North Dakota State junior Erin Teschuk, who ran a 10:01.33, and Montana State senior Heather Demorest, who clocked a 10:02.77.

“There was definitely a pack that went out and pulled away from the other girls,” said Pounds. “And Keli had a little pack that she worked with. She had a great last lap and good kick, and ended up beating all those girls. She did a great job.”

UMKC junior Courtney Frerichs, the nation’s top-ranked steeplechaser, had the day’s fastest time of 9:48.30. Six athletes broke 10 minutes.

The slowest qualifying time to make the NCAA Championships, which will be held in two weeks at Eugene, Ore., was 10:12.68.

Montana will have three athletes competing on Saturday in the javelin. Senior Nycole Devers and junior Stephanie Wells will throw at 11 a.m. (MT), freshman Jensen Lillquist will throw at 4 p.m. (MT).

— Montana Sports Information

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