Smith leads Grizzlies to solid showing on Day 1 of NCAA West Regionals

“All of the credit goes to Zena,” head coach Brian Schweyen said. “She came and was ready to compete.” (GoGriz.com)

Competing on one of track and field’s biggest stages, Montana’s three regional qualifiers did not disappoint.

The day began with a tremendous performance from sophomore javelin thrower Zena Smith. Two of the sophomore’s three throws were lifetime bests, including a top mark of 159-8.

In the end, Smith finished 16th out of 48 athletes, just missing the top-12 cut that would have sent her to nationals. Thursday’s 12th-place finisher had a top throw of 163-9.

“All of the credit goes to Zena,” head coach Brian Schweyen said. “She came and was ready to compete. She had great warmups and great throws. I’m really proud of her, because even though it wasn’t quite enough, she had her best day without a doubt.”

This year’s completion field was especially stacked, with Schweyen noting that most years Smith’s mark would have been good enough for nationals. For instance, Smith’s throw of 159-8 would have ranked ninth if she had been competing in the East Regional – also taking place Thursday, in Austin, Texas. A year ago, she would have ranked eighth in the West Region and 17th at nationals.

“This is probably the strongest the region has ever been in the javelin,” Schweyen said. “It’s unfortunate for Zena, because she performed really well, but I think it will motivate her moving forward and she’ll come out and have another great meet next year.”

Like Smith, Montana’s other two competitors – Jane Booth and Carly Smiedala – are also just sophomores.

Booth reached 5-7 in the high jump (34th) – a 4.5-inch improvement from her most-recent meet at the Big Sky Championships. Smiedala placed 28th out of 48 runners in the women’s 800 meters. Her time of 2:09.20 was just four places – or four-hundredths of a second – off from advancing to Friday’s round.

While both Booth and Smiedala had good showings, they both know they’re capable of more. In fact, earlier this month, Booth reached 5-9.25 in the high jump while in April, Smiedala set a Montana record with a time of 2:06.22. Booth’s PR would have placed 11th on Thursday and advanced her to nationals. Smiedala’s best time would have ranked third – one of the top times in the entire country.

“They are 100 percent capable of getting to the next level, and I truly believe they both know that,” Schweyen said. “I think they’ll walk away from today a little bit disappointed, but motivated from it. They have a long, successful career ahead of them, and I believe today is just another stepping stone.”

In 2018, Smiedala set a school record in the 800 meters and won an individual title at the Big Sky Championships. Smith’s sophomore campaign included four event victories and a fifth-place finish at conference. Booth won three meets and tied a PR earlier this month with a jump of 5-9.25.

Montana’s fourth regional qualifier, Jensen Lillquist, will compete in the men’s javelin on Saturday afternoon. Lillquist, a redshirt junior, is competing at regionals for the third time. He is seeded No. 16 and finished 14th as a sophomore in 2016. Live results can be tracked online.