It was a day of joy and a day of despair on Thursday as the multi-events wrapped up at the Big Sky Conference outdoor track and field championships at Sacramento, Calif.
The heptathlon allowed senior Nicole Stroot to, if not go out on top, at least go out on a high, posting a 326-point PR to place third, matching the All-Big Sky finish she had in the pentathlon at the indoor championships.
Not long after Stroot had finished celebrating, freshman Brendan Thurber-Blaser toed the starting line of the 1,500 meters, the final event of the decathlon. He had a sizeable lead in the standings and was less than four laps around the track from his first Big Sky title.
Six hundred meters in, he was right on pace to hold off all challengers. Then two days of competing in the sun, heat and wind of Sacramento — and maybe the decathlon gods coming down and letting the freshman know nothing in the sport comes easily, especially for a rookie — caught up to him.
And disaster struck.
“His right hamstring completely cramped and locked up on him,” said multi-events coach Adam Bork. “He had to come to a complete stop on the track, and when he bent down to grab it, his calf cramped. He went down to the ground, and his left hamstring locked up.”
All Thurber-Blaser could do was roll onto the infield and get help, all while seeing his decathlon championship fading away with the pack that he had just moments before been running with.
After a couple of minutes, the cramps had been loosened by a group of trainers, but the residual damage was still there. The mid-4:40s 1,500-meter runner limped and hobbled his way around the track, crossing the line in 7:42.34.
Thurber-Blaser put himself in the lead position with a fantastic second day. He had the fourth-best discus throw of 123-11, tied for the top spot in the pole vault at 14-6.25 and took command with a throw of 184-2 in the javelin, 10 feet farther than anyone else in the field threw.
Before the 1,500 meters, he had a 142-point lead, and all he had to do was run faster than 4:54 to become Montana’s fifth decathlon champion since 2000. By the time he crossed the line, he had drifted down to ninth, one point out of eighth, which would have at least earned him a team point.
“To be one point out of eighth place, that’s a tenth of a second in the 1,500. So that was adding insult to injury, literally,” said Bork.
“He was trying to stay hydrated last night and throughout the day, but it was a long day out there, and it caught up to him. He was in a ton of pain just trying to finish. He’ll learn from it.”
Thurber-Blaser’s misfortune allowed Sacramento State’s Max Jette, who entered the 1,500 meters in second place, to win the decathlon with 6,960 points. Portland State’s Donte Robinson, at 6,852, was second. Weber State’s Reece Lafaye, at 6,741, was third.
Montana picked up three points in the decathlon thanks to Josh Riley‘s sixth-place finish. Riley had big PRs in both the discus and javelin, and finished with the day’s third-fastest time in the 1,500 meters of 4:28.84.
Riley finished at 6,580, a 384-point improvement on his only other collegiate decathlon, at the Montana Open two weeks ago.
“Josh had a lot of personal bests and a 300-point PR from what he’s done before, so he had a really good meet,” said Bork. “He had a lot of good marks today and is just showing a lot of improvement across the board.”
Stroot started the day in third place and ended it there as well, but had visions of her own title after going 18-11.75 in the long jump.
That moved her up to second place behind Idaho State’s Bailey Woodbury, who would likely be topped by Stroot in both the javelin and 800 meters. But that didn’t account for the rest of the field.
Sacramento State’s Elizabeth Venzon took the lead with a throw of 135-0 in the javelin, and her teammate, Kassandra Corrigan, passed Stroot in the final standings with a time of 2:16.69 in the 800 meters.
Venzon won with a score of 5,322. Corrigan was second at 5,163, Stroot third at 5,144, a big PR.
And sometimes an athlete just has to give it up to the competition. Stroot threw 95-2 in the javelin and had a PR of 2:20.84 in the 800 meters. It wasn’t good enough to win a Big Sky title, but it was a satisfying way to end her collegiate multi-events career.
“The girls who got first and second, they deserved it,” Stroot said. “They were really good competitors.
“I got a personal best in my overall score, I got a personal best in the 800, and the long jump was very good for me, so I can’t be upset at all with my score. I’m totally happy with it.”
Montana was hoping for at least 16 points in the heptathlon, but the Grizzlies had to settle for seven, with six coming from Stroot and one from Jenna Dukovcic, who had a 409-point PR to finish eighth with 4,766 points.
Dukovcic went 18-1 in the long jump, her first time going over 18 feet, and closed with a time of 2:23.96 in the 800 meters, a nearly seven-second PR.
Freshman Hannah Coburn placed 13th with 4,565 points. She had three PRs in three events on Thursday, including a long jump of 18-5.75 that ranked fifth in the field of 16.
The championships will pick up steam on Friday with the start of the open events. Field events begin at 2 p.m. (MT) with the men’s hammer. The women’s steeplechase kicks off the track events at 4 p.m. (MT).