Once upon a time, Sean Ferriter was a self-proclaimed mediocre discus thrower from the Mining City, an undersized man in a world filled with monsters.
Heather Demorest was a lightly recruited distance dynamo, a sprite of a young woman from a town of less than 750 people deep in the Bitterroot Valley.
Paige Squire was among the most highly decorated female track stars every produced by the Treasure State, a status that ate at her competitive mentality through a few years of struggle to begin her college career.
And Cristian Soratos was a skinny kid who couldn’t qualify for the California state meet in high school, an ultra-competitive yet raw prospect who had to first go to a junior college befor bursting onto the national scene.
Now the quartet of Montana State seniors will represent the Bobcats on the national stage. All four will compete at the NCAA Outdoor Track & Field National Championships in Eugene, Oregon beginning on Wednesday.
“This is so exciting first of all for the kids,” said longtime MSU head coach Dale Kennedy. “This is a goal all of these kids went down with, aiming to get to the final, especially kids who have never been there before. Except Soratos, none of the others have done that. It’s going to help Cristian and it will be new ground for these other three kids.”
Ferriter will throw the hammer beginning at 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Soratos will run the 1,500 national semifinal heat at 5:14 p.m. Demorest will run the national semifinal in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at 5:38 p.m. on Thursday. At 7 p.m., Squire will run the 400-meter hurdles.
The 1,500-meter final is on Friday at 5:45 p.m. The women’s steeple final is at 3:27 p.m. on Saturday. The 400-meter hurdle finals are at 4:30 p.m. later that day.
At the regional championships in Austin, Texas late last month, Ferriter found himself lagging behind. He had one last throw to extend his college career. He popped one. The Butte Central product threw the hammer 210 feet, eight inches to climb to seventh and qualify for the national meet.
“The guy is in 15th and he has one throw left and he steps up and nails it,” Kennedy said. “What a story. That just takes ice water in your veins knowing you have one opportunity.”
“My first two throws were pretty bad and no where near what I needed,” Ferriter said. “I pulled one off and got lucky to move on. The last throw, I just decided I had to go for it. There was not easy throws. It wasn’t technically the best throw but I was going for it and it worked out.”
After Ferriter popped his qualifying throw, he had to wait in anticipation to realize he’d made the top 12. The announcement of his advancement affirmed a career of one of the Mining City’s top track stars.
“That was one of the more exciting times I’ve ever had in track knowing that it was finally over and I finally got my biggest goal,” Ferriter said. “It would have been kind of a disappointment to just end the season there and not get one more chance at the school record.”
Ferriter’s personal best is 211-08 to win the Big Sky championship. The favorite on Wednesday is USC’s Conor McCullough, the West regional champion with a throw of 246-07. Ferriter wants to break the MSU school record of 213-02 set by David Phillips in 2013. MSU longtime throws coach Mike Carigan told Kennedy he thinks Ferriter can throw between 215 and 217.
“At this point, it’s about doing the best I can,” Ferriter said. “I’m not going to really care about the competition at all. I’m just really going to go for the school record.
“If you don’t throw over 215, you aren’t going to get three more throws so you have to just stay relaxed. At this point, there is no next meet. There’s no points really. It’s just challenging myself one last time.”
Demorest has been as dominant for the MSU women as Ferriter has been for the men. The Darby product was the Big Sky Most Outstanding Athlete by winning the steeple and the 5,000 and taking second in the 1,500 at the conference meet. In Austin, she shattered her PR by 12 seconds in the steeple to earn ninth in the region and qualify for the national final.
“For her to go from 10:14 to 10:02 is almost unthinkable but when you look at it, if she wouldn’t have done that, she wouldn’t have gotten in,” Kennedy said. “So many girls in the national championships have gone under 10 minutes. That’s the milestone.”
And Kennedy thinks it will take a sub-10 minute race to advance to the final on Saturday.
Demorest was a Class B standout deep in the Bitterroot Valley. She’s steadily improved throughout her career, culminating in a national meet appearance in cross country and now her first national meet appearance in outdoor track.
“She’s pure determination,” Kennedy said. “When I worked with her and when Coach Weese works with her, we often times have to hold her back. She will over train if you don’t pull the reigns on her.”
Squire thought her career was over. She thought her time of 58.93 wouldn’t be good enough to push her through to the national finals.
“I was walking back pretty upset and sad I didn’t make it and our trainer showed me the results,” Squire said. “She actually had to physically show me for me to believe it because I didn’t think I made it. I was so excited when I finally found out.”
Carrie Damschen’s 58.01 is the MSU school record. Squire ran 58.16 to win the Big Sky championship in the event, her personal best. Kennedy thinks it will take breaking 58 seconds will be what it will take to advance to the finals.
“I want to break the school record,” Squire said. “It’s intimidating knowing all the athletes that are there so I just want to race against myself.”
The Corvallis product came to Montana State with one of the most accomplished resumes of any prep star ever from Montana. Squire earned three golds at the Class A state meet in the 100 hurdles in her high school career and she set the state record (14.47) as a senior. She was the state champion in the 200 and the 400 as a junior and a senior. Her senior season, her 4×400 team took second at state and as a junior, she finished second in the 400. She’s the Class A record holder in the 100H (14.36), 300H (43.76), 200 (24.81) and the 4×400 (3:54.24). She scored 35 points at the state meet to help team to state title her senior year in 2011.
But she struggled mightily her first two years. She didn’t finish any higher than 12th in either hurdle race at the Big Sky meet. Her junior year, she found a groove. Her senior year, she’s peaking.
“I’m really glad to end the way its ending because my first two years were really, really tough,” Squire said. “Nothing was going the way I wanted it to go. My times were awful. It was really hard to keep going and pushing myself and believing I could to excel in track. I’m really glad it’s ending the way it is.”
Kennedy called Squire one of the biggest recruits he’s ever landed. He’s pleased she fulfilled her potential by advancing to the national stage.
“It’s been great to watch her overcome adversity,” Kennedy said. “That’s what the student-athlete experience is. Her adversity was right from the get go. It did not look very good the first two years. But I could start to see things move the third year and now a young lady that was one of the most decorated high school female track and field athletes in Montana ever is proving it at the college level”
Squire, Ferriter and Demorest make up a Montana contingent for two Class A athletes and a Class B athlete.
“Three of these kids are Montana kids,” Kennedy said. “You have one kid from Darby, one from Corvallis and one from Butte. It’s nice to have Montana kids. It’s a little sentimental to have Montana kids headed to the national finals.”
Soratos isn’t from Montana, but he’s the Bobcat with the most realistic title shot. His school-record time of 3:39.65 in the 1,500 is the third-best time in the country this year. Soratos finished fifth at the NCAA West Region partly because he was trying to avoid an extremely physical lead pack.
“I’ve never seen a thing as physical in all my 33 years of collegiate coaching, “Kennedy said. “These guys were banging against each other and no one was going down. It was like a roller derby contest. That will have him ready. He just needs somebody to get a jam going and then whip out to the front.”
Soratos said “my word of the year is redemption” following an indoor season in which he ran the 11th-fastest mile in NCAA history but got out-legged at the NCAA Championships to finish second.
“The guy is on a mission to be a national champion,” Kennedy said. “It’s not unrealistic. I know he was third at the West preliminary. He’s also the overall third seed going in. He might not be the favorite to win but he’s my favorite to win.”