BOZEMAN - At the end of the 21st Big Sky Championships for outdoor track and field, the Montana State women's program officially arrived.
Led by Outstanding Track Athlete Lacy Hinzpeter and bolstered by big points elsewhere, MSU took home its first conference outdoor title Saturday. The Bobcats used clutch performances in Saturday's final two events - the triple jump and long relay - to out-point defending champion Weber State 176-159 1/2. Idaho State was third with 137 points. Montana placed three in the triple jump to edge Northern Arizona for fourth, with 95 points.
On the men's side Northern Arizona ended Weber's five-year stranglehold on the title, scoring 160 1/2 points to 137 1/2 for the Wildcats. Montana State took third with 124, and Montana was fifth.
Hintzpeter cruised to victory in the 100 meters and was second in the 200, and Carrie Damschen won the 400-meter hurdles impressively. But MSU's first women's title wasn't clinched until Erin Jones surged from fifth to second with a triple jump of 40 feet, 11 3/4 inches. That happened on her second-to-last jump, after Montana's Suzanne Krings bumped her down a notch with a mark of 39-10.
It held up, meaning Weber had no chance to catch MSU in the 1,600 relay.
"It's been a long process," MSU head coach Dale Kennedy said. "When something like this happens, it's a team of people doing it. It's not any one kid. Yes, Lacy Hintzpeter stepped up and got the MVP award, but when you look at the supporting cast that's there - you know she's not the only actress on the screen.
"You look at (Jen) Allen, and (Chrissy) McKinstry, and you look at Damschen. Ariana Lee performing like she did. Erin Jones stepping up big time in the triple jump at the end of the meet. (That was) a huge eight points - at that point we were only up 7 1/2."
Allen had a good day, taking second in the hammer throw and third in the discus. She "PR'd" three straight times in the hammer, but couldn't catch Idaho State's Maureen Griffin, who was also second in the discus and garnered the Oustanding Field Athlete award.
Allen had plenty of backup.
McKinstry and Lisa Lord finished 6-7 in the discus. Early on McKinstry, Mary Jo Kraft and Wendy Labott went 3-7-8 in the hammer throw. "Seventeen points," Jones said. "We got so many points in the throws. We would not be a team without those throws."
And so it went. When Jones hit the pit on her big jump, the many MSU fans roared. Minutes later, as the clouds rolled in and the temperature cooled off, the quartet of Leslie Baldus, Hintzpeter, Ashley Williams and Damschen took second to Idaho State in the 1,600-meter relay. Weber State was third.
Lee, who won the 10,000 meters on Friday, finished a solid second to NAU standout Ida Nilsson in the 5,000 on Friday.
MSU's only hiccup came Friday when Damschen, a solid scoring threat in the 200-meter dash, had to qualify through a sudden, strong (5.5 meters per hour) head wind. Hintzpeter was the only one to make the finals out of that heat.
"I guess that's the risk you take in outdoor, in Montana," Damschen said. "But I'm old enough now where I can take the positives out of it. We got Lacy in, Weber didn't get all their girls in that they wanted, and it'll keep me that much fresher for the relay."
And she still had the 400 hurdles. "That was without a doubt the cleanest race I've had yet this year," she said after clocking a school-record 58.01. "It couldn't have come together at a better time than today.
This definitely does take the sting out of last night."
Hintzpeter lost to defending champion Selena Frazier of Idaho State in the 200, but ran a smooth 11.99-second 100. "I knew if I won I'd help the team a lot, so that was what I was going for," said Hintzpeter, a senior. "I was counting points all day. Carrie was making fun of me, but someone has to do it, and it made me feel better."
Montana's Renee Dunn won the triple jump with a mark of 41-6. Her teammate Krings won the 100-meter hurdles easily, in just her third year of running that event.
On the men's side MSU's Lyle Weese came back to win the 5,000 meters and share the Outstanding Track Athlete Award with NAU's Joel Atwater. All Atwater did Saturday was become the first male to four-peat in the 1,500, and pull off the first 1,500-800 double at the Big Sky championships. He also set the Big Sky Championships record for career points, with 90.
Casey Jermyn spent much of Saturday recuperating from his 10,000 win on Friday. He left the track after three of the 12 laps in the 5,000. "Running the 10,000 - it's just so hard on your body," said Weese, who won Friday's steeplechase. "It's almost impossible to come back the (next) day and run a good race. Like Nurani (Sheikh of NAU), who was second (after running the 10,000). But he didn't run the same type of race last night. He didn't run with the same type of effort."
Paul Litchfield of ISU was the Outstanding Field Athlete after winning the pole vault Saturday, to go with his decathlon title from Thursday.
Montana started the day well by finishing 1-2 in the first two events, the javelin and high jump. Jas Gill, who stands 5-10, cleared 6-11 3/4 to win the high jump. Doug Lefler threw 221-2 on his final attempt to pass teammate Dane Brubaker in the javelin.
The points kept coming for MSU. "Team-wise we got a lot better than people thought," Weese said.
"There are so many senior kids where this is their last time, their last Big Sky Championship, and it gets to happen on their track," said Kennedy. "That's a great combination. I'm sure that had something to do with this weekend as well, on both sides.
"I am so proud of our men's team. To score as many points as they scored, they were as optimal as they could possibly be. Yes, we're excited about the women. But I am equally as excited about that men's team."