Grizzlies have high hopes for NCAA West Regionals
The track & field season continues this week for four Grizzlies, with Jane Booth (high jump), Jensen Lillquist (javelin), Carly Smiedala (800 meters) and Zena Smith (javelin) qualifying for the NCAA West Regional. The three-day meet will be held at Hornet Stadium on the campus of Sacramento State.
Smith, a sophomore, will compete at NCAA Regionals for the first time in her young career, while Booth and Smiedala have qualified in both of their collegiate seasons and Lillquist is three for three.
"Being here before, it helps you understand what it's all about," head coach Brian Schweyen said. "I think all four have the ability and talent to get to nationals, it's just a matter of having the right mindset."
Not only are Booth and Smiedala returning to one of the nation's premier events, but they're also returning to a familiar sight. The Big Sky Conference Outdoor Track & Field Championships was held in Sacramento in 2017. Booth and Smiedala both earned podium finishes in the events they'll be competing in this week.
Lillquist redshirted that season, but won a conference championship the year prior, in 2016, and again earlier this month in Moscow, Idaho. His top throw of 226-5 was a season best by 11 feet and a PR, just eight inches short of a Montana school record. He currently ranks No. 16 in the NCAA West Region.
The top 12 athletes in each event will advance to the NCAA Championships, held next month in Eugene, Ore., and Lillquist is well within reach, needing to move up a few more spots.
He's been in this position before, too. After a 39th-place performance as a true freshman in 2015, Lillquist finished 14th in 2016, just two places and seven feet away from a qualifying trip to nationals. His top throw this season would have ranked eighth at last year's NCAA West Regional – a year in which Lillquist redshirted.
"I think Jensen's been thinking about this for two years, and he's completely capable of getting to the next level," Schweyen said. "I think he understands the event better and himself better than he did two years ago. He's always been very motivated, but his knowledge and his understanding of throwing has certainly increased."
The javelin has been a successful event for the Grizzlies over the years. During Schweyen's 10-year head coaching career, 28 of the 80 qualifying athletes have been in that event, including two in 2018.
Joining Lillquist on the women's side is Smith, a sophomore who had a breakout season. She improved her throw by more than 20 feet from 2017 to 2018 and won four meets this season, holding the second-best mark in the Big Sky Conference (156-8). She currently ranks No. 29 in the NCAA West Region.
Booth returns to Regionals for the second consecutive season, holding a top mark of 5-9.25, which was set earlier this month and tied a career best. She reached the podium at the 2017 Big Sky Championships before placing 30th at Regionals.
Smiedala is also back for a second consecutive season, placing 39th in 2017. She's had an historic sophomore season on many levels, setting school records in the 800 meters (outdoor and indoor) and winning an individual title in the event at the Big Sky Championships earlier this month. She currently ranks 25th in the NCAA West Region.
"Carly's been running fantastic," Schweyen said. "I think her mindset right now is top level, and that's the thing, it just takes two good races, or for Jane one good jump or Zena or Jensen one good throw.
"As a competitor, you go into every competition knowing that you want to do better than you've ever done before, and that's the No. 1 goal, regardless of the meet. If we have that mindset, I think we have the ability to have a strong showing this week."
What to know about the NCAA West Region:
When: Thursday-Saturday (click here for a complete schedule)
Who: The top 48 West Region athletes in each event. There is also an East Region that selects the top 48 athletes from that side of the country.
How to follow: Live results can be tracked online. Additionally, fans can purchase a subscription to FloTrack Pro to watch a live broadcast.
Why does it matter? The Grizzlies continue a strong history of sending athletes to one of track & field's top events. Montana will be represented alongside some of the best athletes in the world and will look to finish in the top 12 of their events to qualify for NCAA Championships.
Fun fact: In 10 seasons under Brian Schweyen, the Grizzlies have qualified 80 athletes to NCAA Regionals. Montana will look to send its first athlete to nationals since Stephanie Wells in 2015 (javelin).
Jane Booth / Redshirt Sophomore / Corvallis, Mont.
Event: High Jump
When: Thursday, 5 p.m. MT
Regional Experience: 2017 (30th)
Season Best: 5-9.25
Career Best: 5-9.25
NCAA West Region Rank: 36th
Current Height Needed to Finish Top 12: 5-11.5
Jensen Lillquist / Redshirt Junior / Ellensburg, Wash.
Event: Javelin Throw
When: Saturday, 1 p.m. MT
Regional Experience: 2016 (14th); 2015 (39th)
Season Best: 226-5
Career Best: Same
NCAA West Region Rank: 16th
Current Distance Needed to Finish Top 12: 232-2
Carly Smiedala / Sophomore / Helena, Mont.
Event: 800 meters
When: Thursday, 9:35 p.m. MT (finals Friday at 7:45 p.m. MT)
Regional Experience: 2017 (39th)
Season Best: 2:06.22 (school record)
Career Best: Same
NCAA West Region Rank: 25th
Current Time Needed to Finish Top 12: 2:04.53
Zena Smith / Sophomore / Corvallis, Mont.
Event: Javelin Throw
When: Thursday, 1 p.m. MT
Regional Experience: First Time
Season Best: 156-8
Career Best: Same
NCAA West Region Rank: 29th
Current Distance Needed to Finish Top 12: 173-6