The Montana track and field teams will close out their January schedule this week when the Grizzlies compete at the Washington Invitational on Friday and Saturday.
The two-day meet, which draws athletes from the Pac-12 and other schools across the Northwest, will be held at UW’s 15-year-old Dempsey Indoor, which features a 307-meter track.
It marks the second straight year Montana will bus to Seattle for the meet.
“It’s high-level competition in a nice facility on a big track,” said UM coach Brian Schweyen, who will take his team next week to Idaho and its 290-meter track.
“It will be two weeks in a row that we get to compete on a big track. We should be getting in good enough shape where we should start dropping times down in a lot of our events.”
Montana will travel with a squad of 44 athletes and had qualifiers in most of the meet’s events.
“This meet is a great opportunity for all of our event groups, especially on the track,” said Schweyen, whose teams often compete on Montana State’s 200-meter unbanked track.
“Our 200 and 400 will benefit, because they won’t be running super-tight corners. For our middle-distance and distance athletes, we get to drop down to sea level and race against some fantastic competition.
“For the rest of our athletes, just the competition and the environment should make it a great meet for them.”
Friday’s schedule is highlighted by the women’s pentathlon and day one of the men’s heptathlon. Montana has two athletes competing in the former, three in the latter.
Junior Erika McLeod, last year’s Big Sky Conference champion, ranks sixth nationally in the pentathlon with the adjusted total of 3,863 points she scored at Eastern Washington’s Candy Cane Invitational in early December.
Senior Nicole Stroot ranks 10th nationally with the 3,813 points she scored at Montana State two weeks ago. That score has her ranked No. 9 in Big Sky Conference history. McLeod is No. 6 with the 3,882 points she scored while winning last winter’s Big Sky title.
McLeod and Stroot rank first and second in the Big Sky, more than 400 points ahead of any other pentathlete at this point of the season.
The goal for both on Friday: post a score that will give them a shot at making nationals. The nation’s top 16 pentathletes will compete at College Station, Texas, the second weekend of March.
Last year the lowest score to make the cut to nationals was 4,148. That was also the score Lindsay Lettow, of the Santa Barbara Track Club, posted to win the pentathlon at last year’s Washington Invitational.
“That’s the idea for those two, to hit a national qualifying mark,” said UM multi-events coach Adam Bork. “The level of competition and venue are set up for them to do that.
“They are going to be out of their comfort zone and will need to be a little more aggressive, with an all-or-nothing attitude, because they are going to have to hit PRs in all their events to make it to nationals. But they are both capable of doing it.”
Montana’s three heptathletes — senior Dylan Reynolds and freshmen Josh Riley and Grant Whitcutt — open with the 60 meters, long jump, shot put and high jump on Friday, then finish with the 60-meter hurdles, pole vault and 1,000 meters on Saturday.
“For them, it’s more about the experience,” added Bork. “They should all be near the top of the conference (at next month’s championships in Pocatello), so this meet is about getting more repetitions in.
“We don’t do a lot of heptathlons. It’s a different mindset having to stay focused for seven events, with ups and downs usually happening. It’s another opportunity to work on each of their events and try to improve their consistency and confidence going into conference.”
Friday’s field events include the pole vault and women’s weight throw, with the 200 meters, 5,000 meters and distance medley relay taking place on the track.
The bulk of the meet will take place on Saturday.
* The Montana women, who are ranked fourth in the USTFCCCA Mountain Region, have 30 performances that rank in the top 10 on this week’s Big Sky performance list. That is the most of any school, any gender. The Montana State men are second with 29.
* Erika McLeod moved up to No. 2 in the Big Sky in the 200 meters with her adjusted time of 24.92 on Friday at the Montana State Dual Meet Invitational. She and Portland State senior Genna Settle (24.91) are the only two athletes to go sub 25 seconds this winter.
* Olivia Ellis is scheduled to race the 400 meters. That will come a week after she ran a career-best 57.92 at Bozeman.
* Reagan Colyer (4:55.13) and Rosa Hardarson (4:55.50) are sitting first and second in the Big Sky in the mile. They are two of six athletes who have gone sub-five minutes this season. They are both running the mile on Saturday.
* Emily Pittis and Jessica Bailey are second and third in the 3,000 meters after running converted times of 10:00.55 and 10:01.33 on Friday. Northern Arizona’s Paige Gilchrist ran a 9:46.28 on Saturday in Flagstaff to bump Pittis and Bailey down a spot.
* Bailey is entered to race both the 3,000 and 5,000 meters this week, a double that would be doable if she is in one of the Friday-night heats of the 5,000 meters.
* Stroot tops the Big Sky in the 60-meter hurdles with her converted 55 time of 8.54 from the Candy Cane Invitational. She and McLeod, who ranks fourth, will both compete in the hurdles and long jump on Saturday, following Friday’s pentathlon.
* Sacramento State’s Candice Dominguez took over the Big Sky lead in the high jump on Saturday at 5-9.25. Montana’s Jane Booth, who has twice gone 5-5 this winter, has some work to do on Saturday.
* Sammy Evans, who ranks first in the Big Sky in the triple jump and second in the long jump, is entered in both events on Saturday.
* Samantha Hodgson won the Big Sky shot put title last winter at a distance of 49-1.75. If early-season results indicate anything, that type of effort might win again. The best mark in the Big Sky to date is 47-4.25. Hodgson has gone 45.4.25 this winter.
* Hana Feilzer ranks third in the weight throw at 60-3, which she did at Eastern Washington. Northern Arizona’s Brooke Anderson put one way out there on Saturday in Flagstaff, going 67-4.75.
* Callum Macnab ran an adjusted 22.04 in the 200 meters on Friday and ranks sixth in the Big Sky. He’ll race in Seattle on Friday evening in an attempt to close the gap on Northern Arizona’s Kossi Tchenawou, who ran a 21.66 on Saturday in Flagstaff.
* Sterling Reneau, runner-up in the quarter mile at last spring’s Big Sky outdoor championships, will race his first 400 meters of the indoor season on Saturday. Only four times faster than 49.22 have been clocked this winter.
* Jordon Wallin (1:55.31) and Karsten Pease (1:55.55), who rank eighth and 10th in the Big Sky, both have posted times in the 1:55s for the 800 meters. Both will race on Saturday. Wallin ran a 1:52.83 last spring while racing at USC. Pease has a PR of 1:53.76.
* Nathan Wellington ran an adjusted 5,000 meters time on Friday of 15:16.41. This week will be an opportunity to beat his PR of 15:05.02. Something that starts with a 14 would be sweet.
* Chase Armstrong and Macnab, ranked third and fourth in the Big Sky, will be racing the 60-meter hurdles on Saturday. The Big Sky’s top two times, both by freshmen, were recorded last week by Idaho’s Ben Doucette (8.04) and Northern Arizona’s Khalil Dorsey (8.24).
* Nick Jackson, who ranks fifth in the Big Sky in the shot at 54-2.5, is primed to break into Club 55 for the first time in his career on Saturday.
Upcoming: Montana will compete at the Idaho Duals in Moscow on Friday, Feb. 3.