A month ago, Brett Dringman was an afterthought. He no-heighted in the pole vault at Montana’s first two meets of the indoor season, something that had become a common result for the Grizzlies’ jumpers.
Now he has the look of a potential champion when the Big Sky Conference indoor championships open next week at Pocatello, Idaho.
“I asked Brett, ‘What turned it around for you? When did you decide you were going to start vaulting?’ ” says UM coach Brian Schweyen, who will take his team to Bozeman on Friday to compete in the Montana State Open.
“He said when he didn’t get into the top section at the Washington meet (in late January). He was vaulting in the second group and not on the second day with the better vaulters. That lit a fire under him.”
Dringman cleared 15-3 at the Idaho Duals to open February, then went 15-11.25 last weekend at the Mountain States Games in Pocatello, his best vault since the 2015 indoor season and less than two inches off his PR.
That has him tied for second in the Big Sky with Idaho State’s Steven Beck. Both trail Eastern Washington’s Larry Still, who went 16-4.75 last weekend at Washington.
Jakob Alme, with a season best of 14-11.5, does not rank in the top 10 in the Big Sky, but Schweyen believes both of his vaulters are in store for something special next week.
“They are on the verge of doing some incredible things,” said Schweyen. “They have made it a point to become vaulters. They address practices with the intention of going up every single time, improving on positions and getting competitive.”
Alme no-heighted at eight of the team’s nine outdoor meets last spring. He has been burdened this winter with an ankle sprain, but he cleared 14-11.5 last weekend at Idaho State, which was just the beginning.
“They didn’t take it as seriously as you need to to be good at something,” said Schweyen. “Jake has had a fire for a while, and I think he finally said, Enough is enough, I’m going to go and get it done. And he has.”
Both vaulters will be competing on Friday when the Montana State Open begins at noon with the field events. Running events are scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m.
Even though the meet has the label of being a last-chance qualifier and comes less than a week before the Big Sky championships open next Thursday, Montana will still be bringing a full bus, with 28 women and 20 men.
“We’re not taking this meet lightly, and it’s not necessarily a week off to rest,” said Schweyen. “It’s a week to get sharper, hone the mental skills and get ready to go to conference and do what they’re all capable of doing.”
What to watch for:
* Montana will potentially have five athletes competing in the heptathlon at next week’s championships, and four of them are scheduled to for multiple events on Friday.
Freshman Brendan Thurber-Blaser, who ranks third in the Big Sky in the heptathlon with his score of 4,868 from the Candy Cane Invitational in December, is coming off his best meet of the winter.
He competed in four events last weekend at the Mountain States Games and had four season bests in the 60-meter hurdles (9.06), long jump (22-1), pole vault (13-11.75) and shot put (43-8.25).
“Some of them are still a little unsure in a couple of events, so this meet is a chance for them to go shore things up and be ready for next week,” said Schweyen. “The hope is they leave this meet with all those questions answered and are ready to go take care of business next week.”
* With the suspicious sprint and hurdle results from the Candy Cane Invitational now removed from the Big Sky performance list, the 60-meter hurdles comes into clearer focus.
Callum Macnab, at 8.35, ranks eighth, and freshman Chase Armstrong, at 8.39, ranks 12th in a tight field. Idaho freshman Ben Doucette, at 8.04, is in his own world, but Nos. 2 through 13 all have times between 8.23 and 8.40.
Macnab and Armstrong are scheduled to race the hurdles on Friday.
* Bush gives Montana another scoring threat in the pole vault, in addition to Dringman and Alme. He is tied for 10th at 15-3 and will compete in the event on Friday.
* Nick Jackson is now sitting No. 8 in the shot put with his mark of 54-2.5 from Jan. 20 at Montana State. Freshman Kyle Morris moved up into a tie for 11th with his season-best toss of 52-4.25 last weekend at Idaho State. Both are competing on Friday.
* Megan Franz is one of three Montana middle-distance runners who rank in the top 10 in the Big Sky in the 800 meters but the only one who will be racing the event on Friday. She ranks ninth in the Big Sky with her time of 2:13.60 at Washington three weeks ago.
* As with the heptathletes, Montana’s top pentathletes will be competing on Friday in multiple events. Erika McLeod, the Big Sky’s top-ranked pentathlete, is entered in the 60-meter hurdles, high jump and long jump. Nicole Stroot, ranked No. 2 behind McLeod, will compete in the hurdles and high jump.
* Freshman Jane Booth will compete in the high jump on Friday, a week after going a season-best 5-7 at Pocatello. The Big Sky’s top height this winter is 5-9.25, cleared by Sacramento State’s Candice Dominguez.
* Sammy Evans will put all her focus on the triple jump on Friday. She is the Big Sky leader by more than two feet, but she ranks 35th nationally and needs to be in the top 16 at season’s end if she wants to make nationals next month.
Evans’s best jumps this season have been 41-7 at Eastern Washington, 41-5 at Washington and 41-0 last week at Idaho State. The 16th-ranked jump on this week’s national performance list is 42-11, which means Evans will need to have a big PR on Friday or next week if she wants to extend her season.
* It’s getting deep into February, so it’s no surprise that Samantha Hodgson is dropping hints in the shot put that she’ll be ready to defend her Big Sky title from last winter next week in Pocatello.
Hodgson went 46-5.5 two weeks ago, then 46-11 last weekend and ranks fourth in the Big Sky. Two athletes share the top mark of 47-5.75. Hodgson won last year’s title by going 49-1.75 and has a PR of 50-8.25, which is also the school record.
Upcoming: The Big Sky Conference championships will begin next Thursday at ISU’s Holt Arena, with the women’s pentathlon and day one of the men’s heptathlon. McLeod won the pentathlon at last year’s championships at Montana State, with Stroot finishing fourth.