Junior Erika McLeod, the defending Big Sky Conference heptathlon champion, has the better resume, but it was Stroot who had the better day on Thursday.
She matched her PR in the high jump and came close to breaking two more personal records in the 100-meter hurdles and shot put.
Her 3,077 first-day points are 156 more than she has ever scored through four events in the heptathlon and were 73 more than McLeod totaled on Thursday.
It was a day of redemption for Stroot, who has been in an outdoor season malaise, particularly in the jumps. The 19-foot long jumper hasn’t made it out of the 17s this spring nor cleared even a five-foot bar in the high jump.
On Thursday she looked more like the athlete who finished second to McLeod in the pentathlon at the Big Sky indoor championships.
“This was definitely a confidence boost for me,” she said. “I’ve been struggling with the high jump and long jump lately. In the high jump today, I reminded myself that yes, I can still do the heptathlon and be competitive in it.”
In a heptathlon field of nine, Stroot opened with the day’s best time of 14.21 in the 100-meter hurdles that was just two-hundredths of a second off her PR. It set her up for the day to come.
She matched her PR in the high jump, clearing 5-4.25, and she came up just short of her PR in the shot put, landing one at 35-2.75. She closed with a time of 26.21 in the 200 meters.
“When you start off with a PR, it definitely sets you up mentally for the rest of the meet,” said Stroot. “It really helps you relax. When I went into the high jump, I knew I was off to a good start and had the potential to have a personal best in my overall score.”
Stroot had better marks through three events than McLeod, who opened with a time of 14.59 in the hurdles, then went 5-1.75 in the high jump and 34-5.75 in the shot put, but she cut into Stroot’s lead with a time of 25.48 in the 200 meters.
The winner will be determined on Friday afternoon, when the heptathlon concludes with the long jump, javelin and 800 meters.
Carroll’s Crystal Schmidt, who had the day’s best high jump (5-7) and shot put (37-10), is in third with 2,760 points. Montana freshman Hannah Coburn, who cleared five feet in the high jump for the first time as a collegiate athlete, is in fourth place with 2,656 points.
Thurber-Blaser is in the frustrating position of having the talent and fitness to win a Big Sky decathlon title in two weeks at Sacramento State, but patella tendinitis in his knee continues to hold him back.
Two weeks ago at the Mt. SAC Relays in California, Thurber-Blaser made it through the opening day of the decathlon but could only complete two of the five events on day two.
He made it through another opening day on Thursday, scoring 32 more points than he did in California.
“It’s very frustrating,” he said. “It was feeling better, but one jump in the high jump really put it back to square one. I’ll ice it up tonight and see how it feels tomorrow.”
Thurber-Blaser led the six decathletes, five of whom were Grizzlies, through the first three events. He went 11.47 in the 100 meters, 22-4 in the long jump and 43-2.5 in the shot put.
Freshman teammate Josh Riley cut into Thurber-Blaser’s lead by recording the top high jump of 6-6 and 400 meters time of 51.28.
Thurber-Blaser is sitting in first with 3,517 points. Riley is in second with 3,419. Carroll’s Nolan Hofstee is in third with 3,275 points.
“Up to the high jump, I felt really good and thought I was competing well,” Thurber-Blaser said. “I had a lot of good marks in the first few events.
“I’ll just have to warm up tomorrow and see how it feels. Hopefully I’ll be able to do all of it.”
The decathlon concludes on Friday with the 110-meter hurdles, discus, pole vault, javelin and 1,500 meters.