UM’s Connors breaks through, wins heptathlon

MISSOULA — University of Montana freshman Lakyn Connors won the Montana Open heptathlon Friday afternoon at Dornblaser Field in Missoula, posting a two-day total of 4,533 points.

Connors surpassed the Big Sky Conference qualifying standard by more than 200 points and added 848 to the score she totaled at Montana State in early April. Her score moves her up to No. 9 on the Big Sky performance list.

“This week was a big boost. I came in with a really positive mindset, and I think that helped a lot,” Connors said. “It’s still a work in progress, but this should send me into conference with some confidence.”

Carroll’s Latecia Howell scored 4,425 points, a total that will send her to NAIA nationals at Gulf Shores, Ala., in three weeks. Montana freshman Maggie Hering finished third at 3,949, a 333-point improvement on her Montana State score.

Connors opened her day by fouling her first two attempts in the long jump. She posted a mark of 15-7 on her final attempt, then closed strongly with a PR in the javelin of 112-9 and a time of 2:30.68 in the 800 meters. She won the final two events.

“I kind of had to do a safety jump, but then I had a big PR in the javelin, and that gave me some excitement going into the 800,” Connors said. “I knew Latecia was going for a 2:30, so I was able to compete with her throughout the race.”

Montana senior Lindsey Hall (5,550), Southern Utah senior Shaye Springall (5,454) and Montana State senior Carley McCutchen (5,151) have all cracked 5,000 points this spring and are in a league of their own.

The next 10 athletes on the Big Sky performance list, none of whom have reached 4,900 points, are underclassmen. Connors insinuated herself into that mix with her performance Thursday and Friday.

“That’s exactly what Lakyn needed. That’s a lot closer to where she should be competing and should give her a lot of confidence,” said UM multi-events coach Adam Bork.

“The key is for her to be able to do this at conference and keep that positive momentum when people are scoring 5,500 points.”

One athlete who is not accounted for among the leaders on the Big Sky performance list is Griz junior Shayle Dezellem, who held the lead in the heptathlon after Thursday’s four events.

She went a season-best 17-3.5 in the long jump and a career-best 100-9 in the javelin Friday before sitting out the 800 meters to remain fresh for Saturday’s 400-meter hurdles. Had she run her usual 2:18 in the 800, Dezellem would have scored 4,843 points and moved up to No. 4 in the Big Sky.

The Big Sky Conference multi-events will be held Wednesday and Thursday, May 14-15, at Flagstaff, Ariz.

“It’s possible we could have three in the top five. At least three in the top eight for sure,” Bork said.

Hering had marks Friday of 15-7 in the long jump, 77-5 in the javelin and 2:41.99 in the 800 meters.

Hall, who is tied for 10th nationally in the multi-events, did not compete in this week’s heptathlon. Instead she is entered in Saturday’s 100-meter hurdles, high jump, long jump and shot put.

“There is something special about competing with Lindsey, because she is such a good teammate to us,” Connors said. “When she’s not competing, it feels like there’s a missing link, because she brings us all together.

“She has a level of focus that most of us don’t have yet, and she excels in every event and handles it so well. I look up to her during competition, just because you get to see what you hope to be in the future.”

Saturday’s field events will begin at 10:15 a.m. with the women’s javelin, women’s shot put and men’s long jump. Running events begin at 11:15 a.m. with the women’s steeplechase.

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