Dave Coppock was at the center of the action Thursday at the Yellowjacket/Battlin' Bear Open. Wearing a bright red Big Sky State Games polo, khaki shorts, a baseball cap and sunglasses, Coppock was the official starter.  

The Yellowjackets coach showed no signs of slowing down in spite of the fact that he's retiring this season after 28 years. 

"I've been so busy," Coppock said. "I haven't even really had time to think about it."

So until the season ends, it's business as usual.

But he does admit he is looking forward to not knowing what the future holds. 

"I've never had a chance in my life where I didn't have a period where I was either in school or didn't have a job lined up," Coppock said.

He'll take with him memories of taking athletes to nationals, both in cross country and track, winning third in the GNAC in 2012 cross country, along with the bumps that came along the way.

"It's just been a tremendous experience to have been a coach in the NCAA. I never thought I would do that," Coppock said. "Originally when we started cross country at Eastern, I was just asked to kind of help out and get it started.

"I didn't envision that we'd be going to NCAA nationals in track and cross country at that point. I just kind of took it one year at a time you know. It's just been a great great experience and I'm really grateful to the university and especially our athletic director. It's been fun."

And before he goes, he's hoping to make one last run.

On Thursday, members of the Yellowjackets along with Rocky Mountain College, Carroll College, Montana Western, University of Great Falls and South Dakota School of Mines were chasing qualifying times for their postseason conference meets.

Montana State Billings' Josey Smiedala was one of them. Somewhat disappointed in her recent times, on a whim she convinced her coaches to let her try the 400-meter hurdles. Smiedala won the race in 1 minute, 5.65 seconds. 

"I missed it so much!" she said. "It's my race."

The Helena High grad hadn't run hurdles in two years. After tearing her miniscus in high school and having to have surgery on it the week of the Class AA state track meet, Smiedala's doctors had advised her to stay away from the hurdles.

She decided she wanted to try again recently and the results vaulted her into a chance to make the conference meet.

"It's redemption for me since I missed that state meet," Smiedala said.

The Carroll women were dominant, winning 11 events. Hannah Borch led the Saints and won the 100 (12.35), 200 (25.62) and long jump (5.3 meters). Teammate Leah Esposito won both the 1,500 (4:38.54) and 5,000 (18:55.54)

The Carroll men won seven events, including both relays. Kyle Nichol won the 400 (49.43), Jack Dunley won the 800 (1:55.15), Chance Hyatt won the 1500 (4:03.61), Daniel Pendergast won the 400 hurdles (56.38) and Gunnar Hillborn won the pole vault (4.41).

The Yellowjackets men won seven events as well. Montana State Billings men were led by Sam Zook in the 100 meters (10.42) and Chuck Carr who won both the high jump (2 meters) and long jump (6.55).

The top finisher for the Battlin' Bears was Benson Koech who won the 5,000 (16:11.5).

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Digital Sports Editor

Digital sports editor for billingsgazette.com and 406mtsports.com.