Editor’s note: this story originally appeared in the Bozeman Track & Field Association quarterly news letter. Montana State has hosted two home meets so far in the indoor track season. Click here for results (MSU Invitational; MSU Duals).
If the Montana State track and field teams are to climb the ranks of the Big Sky Conference during the upcoming indoor season, the Bobcats might do it following the lead of a group of star quarter-milers.
The Bobcats opened the indoor season with the Blue & Gold Meet on December 3 in Bozeman but the season officially got underway with the MSU-Montana multi-event duals in Bozeman on January 9 and the Montana State University Invitational on January 13, the official full start for the women’s and men’s teams.
The Montana State men return 14 lettermen and 43 total points from a team that finished fifth by scoring 58 points at the Big Sky Conference indoor championships in Bozeman last winter. The MSU women return 12 lettermen and 14 points from a team that scored 50.5 points and finished eighth at the indoor championships, but will be without pole vault champion Casey Teska, who has just one outdoor season remaining.
Montana State’s depth this season in the long sprints and middle distances is what excites longtime MSU track and field director Dale Kennedy. The fourth-place finishing 4×400 meter relay team of Jessica Chrisp, Taylor Buschy, Amanda Jaynes and Josephine Petruska all return, although Petruska will redshirt this indoor season and Buschy will likely strictly concentrate on the 400 meters after standing out in the 800 her first two years at MSU.
For the men, Jadin Casey and Samuel Bloom both return after scoring points in the 400 and 800 meters, respectively, at the Big Sky meet and, like the women, are bolstered by a collection of young upstarts who should threaten to qualify for the conference championship meet in the 200, 400, 800 and the short and long hurdles races.
“We do a battery of testing during the fall in preparation for the indoor group to test all sorts of things and this is by far the best group in the sprints and hurdles collectively than I’ve ever had,” said Kennedy, who begins his 37th year at Montana State with the turn of the calendar. “We’ve had some individual or two along the way with higher marks along the way, but overall, this is the best group ever.”
Casey, a sophomore from Stevensville, placed fifth in the 400 at the 2016 Big Sky Indoor championships by running a persona-best 48.12 seconds. He also ran the anchor leg on the relay team that finished sixth. Bloom, a sophomore from Spokane, ran a personal-best 1:53.86 to finish sixth at the indoor championships.
In the off-season, Kennedy, cross country head coach and distance mentor Lyle Weese, throws coach Mike Carrigan and multi-event/jumps coach Tom Eitel brought in a heralded and sizeable recruiting class of 32. Among those who are expected to contribute right away include long sprinters sophomore Franklin Hoerner, a transfer from Spokane Community College who has run 48.20 in the 400 and 1;51.80 in the 800, along with freshmen Tyler McQueen out of Billings Senior and Billy Yeager from Twin Bridges. McQueen ran 48.89 as a prep senior while Yeager ran 48.99.
“You put those three guys with Jadin Casey and you have potential for a really great 4×400,” Kennedy said. “The new guys have great work ethic. For a lot of those kids, the training is so much more accelerated at the high school level. You saw it with Jadin last year. This was more intense, the competition level was higher. These kids have the persona that they will rise to whatever the level of competition is.
“We are deeper with guys that can run the 400 than we’ve ever been.”
Spokane product Isaac Barville and Central Kitsap (Washington) graduate Cameron Carroll have both run under 1:54 in the 800, and around 4:12 in the mile. Carroll has broken 50 seconds in the 400 as well. Each provide range and depth for MSU.
MSU standout sprinter Mitch Hornig will redshirt this season, giving him two more indoor seasons.
Junior Matthew Gotta is one of Montana State’s top returning point scorers. The Bismark, North Dakota native placed fourth at the indoor championships in the 3,000 meters and seventh in the 5,000, scoring seven total points in the two long distances. Kennedy expects Diego Leon, a former transfer from Hartnell College (the same school that produced MSU All-American Cristian Soratos) to contribute more after having a year of adjustment under his belt.
Chrisp will look to score in the jumps while also chasing points in the pentathlon. She finished eighth in the pentathlon at the 2015 indoor championships and sixth last season.
Mason Storm, a junior from Great Falls, will try to capitalize on the momentum of his outdoor championship in the decathlon. He finished fifth in last year’s heptathlon.
The Montana State women were among the most productive teams in the conference for a three seasons leading up to last calendar year. The Bobcats finished second at the Big Sky Indoor and Outdoor championships two years in a row before falling to eighth last season during what Kennedy deemed a rebuilding year.
The Bobcats have long run a developmental program, particularly on the women’s side, that puts a high priority on recruiting in the state and the region. The training program hopes to help the women reach all-conference levels after being in the program for a year or two.
Jaynes, a junior from Salt Lake City, is a prime example of that development. During her indoor sophomore season, she placed 11th in the 200 meters and ran a leg on MSU’s fourth-place 4×400 team. By outdoor, she was one of Montana State’s top scorers, earning second place in the 400 hurdles, fifth in the 100 hurdles and running legs on both relay teams, each that scored points.
Kennedy brought in a large class of standout girls that included in-state products like Dillon’s Holly Andersen, Joliet’s Truanne Roginske, Plains’ Hailey Phillips and Arizona State transfer Chiara Warner, a Townsend product who finished her prep career as one of the state’s most decorated runners.
The veterans of the team like Christie Schiel, a senior that has captured the outdoor title in the 800 each of the last two springs, along with distance runners like sophomore Alyssa Snyder (4th in the 3,000 last winter) and junior Layne Oliver (seventh in the mile last winter) and Chrisp, a multi events and jump standout from Deer Park, Washington entering her senior year will make up a core. But the emergence of the aforementioned young Bobcats combine with the potential of freshmen like distance runners Ellen Brooks, Madison Liechty, Kim Parsell and McKenna Ramsay plus sprinter Kaylee Oyler could help MSU attain its goal of finishing in the top five of the team standings.
“We did some really good recruiting,” Kennedy said. “We had really lost a large number the year before and were trying to get some people back in here and develop again so that large number didn’t totally shock me.
“We could have six girls who run in the 56s in the 400. It’s kind of like the guys and we are kind of going ‘Quarter miler U’ here.”
Ramsay, Oyler, sophomore Elisabeth Krieger, Jaynes and Andersen have all run under 57 seconds in the 400.
While the long sprints and the middle distances could see a jump on both sides despite the loss of Kaylee Schmitz, last year’s 800 meter indoor champion, the field events, specifically the throws, should be strong for MSU once again.
On the women’s side, Anaconda product Jacqueline Verlanic returns for her senior year. She finished fifth in the hammer throw at the outdoor championships last spring and has competed at the indoor championships in the weight throw each of the last two winters. Kennedy said he saw a big jump in junior Cailyn Schroeder and also expects Manhattan native Lindsay Benson to compete right away as a freshman.
Carrigan, Montana State’s longtime throws mentor with more than 50 All-Big Sky athletes to his credit, is being helped by Jen Allen, the former Manhattan guru who helped MSU freshman Alec Nehring to the Class B state championships in the shot put and the discus last spring. Nehring threw the shot 60 feet, six inches and the disc just short of 180 feet. If he can translate those results, he will be a championship meet qualifier as a freshman.
Nehring will have a chance to learn under two of the Big Sky’s best as Kyle Douglass and Calvin Root return for their junior years. Douglass, a Missoula Sentinel product, won every meet he competed in leading up to the indoor championships in the shot put, eventually placing sixth in the Big Sky. He rebounded to finish second in the discus and seventh in the shot put at the outdoor championships. Root is fresh off a third-place indoor finish in the weight throw and should also push for a championship berth in the shot put this winter.
“Those two give us a wrecking crew with not only Big Sky meet experience but NCAA meet experience,” Kennedy said. “They are seasoned veterans and real probable point getters at the Big Sky championships. I know both guys have goals of reaching the NCAA Indoor, which is so hard because there is no regional but they are just on a mission.”
“They are as committed as anyone ever in our program.”
Nehring will be pushed as MSU’s top freshman by Noah Martin, a 6-foot-6 high jump prototype that might be the top prospect Kennedy and the Bobcats have ever landed. The son of one of Kennedy’s former students when he lived and coached in Spokane was one of the best high jumpers in the country at University High. His personal-best of 7-foot-3 qualified him for the Olympic Trials last year.
“I do not ever remember having a high school kid who was in the Olympic Trials come to Montana State,” Kennedy said. “It’s never happened. He has 7-3 credentials in the high jump. If he can replicate that, he has a great shot at being one of the top 16 guys in the nation.”
Caleb Neth, the Class B state champion in the long jump and the 400 who paired with Nehring to lead Manhattan to the team state championship, will compete in events ranging from the jumps to the 400 while likely training as a multi athlete.
Austin Decker returns for his senior year after a seventh-place finish in the pole vault during last year’s indoor season. Carter Theade will be the top returning women’s pole vaulted for the Bobcats after earning a tie for seventh place last winter.
“We’ve set some goals team-wise and our guys are aiming to be in the top three and the women want a top five finish,” Kennedy said. “I think that is realistic. It would be a step up from last year.
“The camaraderie of our team right now is a can-do attitude that we are going to get this done. This may be as bonded as I’ve ever seen a group be in the fall. That’s tough to get done because they are not all training in the same place at the same time. They don’t get on a bus together, there’s not any team travel that bonds them. But they seem to be really, really connecting.”