GREELEY, Colo. — She started the day in second place. Turns out Erika McLeod had everyone right where she wanted them.
McLeod, still just a sophomore at the University of Montana, used a career-best long jump to spark her day, then added wins in the javelin and 800 meters to win her first heptathlon title Thursday at the Big Sky Conference outdoor track and field championships. Results
The Butte High graduate used PRs in five of the heptathlon’s seven events to score 5,541 points, the highest total at the championships since 1988 and the second-highest winning point total in championships history.
McLeod’s score puts her at No. 6 on the Big Sky all-time list and just 62 points behind Lindsey Hall’s school record of 5,603, which Hall set in 2014 at nationals, which is where McLeod could very well be headed next month.
Her score, for now, ranks 21st in the nation. The top 24 heptathlon scores at week’s end will make the cut to the NCAA championships, which will be held in Eugene, Ore., the second week of June.
“Erika was competing all day. It was fun to watch her,” said UM multi-events coach Adam Bork. “She had five out of seven PRs, and the other two weren’t that far off. You can’t ask for much more than that.
“The only thing that would surprise me at this point was if she didn’t pull through somehow. She’s one of those athletes who you’re starting to expect to come out with a huge mark. She’s that talented and that good of a competitor.”
McLeod trailed Montana State senior Danielle Rider by 54 points after Wednesday’s four events. She wasted little time putting her stamp on day two. McLeod went a career-best 19-6.75 in the long jump to take the overall lead and leave everyone else fighting for second.
“I had a good first jump, around 18-8, and my second one was about the same,” said McLeod, who watched while Rider recorded a similar jump of 18-7 on her second attempt. “I knew if I was going to get any sort of head start, it had to be now, so I just went for it.
“I knew it was a big jump, but I didn’t know it was that big. It gave me a whole lot of confidence, and I felt so much more relaxed going through the rest of my events.”
McLeod added to her lead with a winning throw of 121-8 in the javelin, a mark less than three feet off her PR, which got everyone looking not at her pursuers in Greeley but at the national performance list as the start of the 800 meters drew near.
“My coaches told me if I ran a 2:13 or faster, I would qualify for nationals, so that’s what I went for,” said McLeod, who closed with a 2:14.27, a career-best time that was more than 10 seconds faster than any other heptathlete’s.
“I’m happy with 2:14. It was a great couple of days with a lot of PRs. More than anything, I think I did a good job of mentally staying in it both days and competing well.”
Rider finished second with 5,267 points, Northern Colorado’s Alisha Allen was third with 4,898.
Montana junior Lakyn Connors, who went 16-10.75 in the long jump, 103-0 in the javelin and 2:32.85 in the 800 meters on Thursday, finished seventh with 4,611 points to give Montana a 12-point start to the four-day championships.
Junior Nicole Stroot, in seventh after day one, opened Thursday with a fourth-place long jump of 18-6.5, but fouled in three attempts in the javelin and sat out the 800 meters to save herself for Friday and Saturday.
In the men’s decathlon, redshirt freshman Charlie Bush and freshman Jess Beaman both no-heighted in the pole vault Thursday to kneecap performances that looked promising in the early going.
Both had top-six marks in the discus, with Beaman throwing 112-6 to place fourth, Bush a career-best 109-4 to finish sixth.
But in the decathlon’s eighth event, the pole vault, Beaman missed three times at his opening height of 10-2. Bush did the same when he entered the competition at 14-1.25.
Beaman would go on to throw a career-best 154-7 in the javelin to finish fourth in that event, then close with a fourth-place 1,500-meters time of 4:46.19 to finish 14th overall. Bush sat out the final two events.
Montana State’s Mason Storm won the decathlon in a tight battle that had the top four athletes finishing within 25 points of one another. Storm finished with 6,555 points, the lowest winning total in league history.
The championships’ open events begin Friday, with the men’s javelin at 10 a.m. Running events start at 2 p.m. with the men’s steeplechase.
— Montana Sports Information