Patrick Casey, the first runner to crack the 4-minute barrier in the mile on Montana soil, is transferring from Montana State to the University of Oklahoma.
Montana State coach Dale Kennedy granted the redshirt junior a release, meaning he is eligible to compete for the Sooners in the upcoming indoor and outdoor track and field seasons.
"This is kind of a bittersweet deal leaving," said Casey, who announced his decision to transfer late Tuesday night on Facebook. "It's sad to go, but I'm excited to see what my future holds at Oklahoma."
The two-time All-American from Laurel said he felt like he needed a change of scenery to reach his full potential, but added that he is indebted to Kennedy and his MSU teammates for the role they played in his success thus far.
"I had to decide whether I was in the best possible position to take my running to the next level, and I felt like if I wanted to make myself the best I can be, I had to put myself in a more competitive environment," said Casey, who won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 at the Class A state meet as a senior at Laurel in 2008. "It was a very tough decision to leave Montana State, because I came into college as a 4:19 or 4:20 miler and really improved here with some really great teammates and coaches.
"Coach Kennedy was very supportive of my goals when I came here and I felt like I was getting better every year. I made that initial jump to get my PRs down to 3:59 in the mile and 3:41 in the 1,500, but I needed to make this move to make that next jump."
Casey's most notable performance at Montana State came on Feb. 4, 2011, when he won the mile in Brick Breeden Fieldhouse in a personal best 3:59.76 (3:54.59 altitude adjusted). He went on to win the Big Sky Conference title in the mile before finishing 12th at the NCAA indoor championships.
In the outdoor season, he won both the 800 and the 1,500 at the Big Sky Championships and advanced beyond the NCAA West regional in the 1,500 to make another national championship appearance. Casey went on to place eighth overall with a time of 3:45.19 and earned his second All-America nod.
As a freshman, he was the Big Sky Champion in the indoor mile with a time of 4:09.92 and went on to earn a bronze medal at the NCAA indoor championships after crossing the finish line in 4:01.87 -- becoming an All-America in his first attempt.
"We're pleased that we could help him up to this point in this career," Kennedy said in a press release issued Wednesday by Montana State. "He made tremendous progress here in terms of his time drops. It's nice to know we had a part in this part of his running career at the collegiate level. We wish him well as he moves forward with his athletic and academic career at the University of Oklahoma."
Casey said he first began thinking of transferring about two months ago and made the decision to leave Montana State over Christmas break. Once he was granted a release, he decided Oklahoma was the best place to continue his running career, and it's easy to see why. The Sooners arguably have the nation's best collection of milers.
Also on the team are Riley Masters (3:58.17 personal best in the mile), Eric Harasyn (3:59.97), Frezer Legesse (4:06.08), George Alex (4:06.32), Ross Larimer (4:07.30), Kevin Williams (4:08.61) and Taylor Wardell (4:08.96). Masters transferred from Maine to Oklahoma and will enroll along with Casey for the spring semester.
The team is coached by Martin Smith, who joined the Sooners in 2005. In the six years under his guidance, six individual NCAA champions have been crowned, 49 of the program's individual event or relay records have been broken, 98 NCAA All-America honors have been earned and 46 Big 12 titles have been won in individual or relay events along with the 2007 (outdoor) and 2010 (indoor) Big 12 men's conference titles. Prior to coaching at Oklahoma, Smith achieved great success coaching distance runners at Wisconsin and Oregon.
"Oklahoma was definitely the first choice, looking at what their coach has done last couple years and turning the program around," Casey said. "Once I saw (Masters) went there, I thought it was the best possible group of training partners I could find. It's one of the best middle distance crews in the nation."
Casey, who hopes to compete at the U.S. Olympic Trials this summer, is still working his way back from an injury and said he will ease into the indoor season.
"I had a little tendinitis in my lower quad and was able to start some light running in November," he said. "I am not 100 percent confident in my fitness right now, but I am sure in a couple months I'll be where I want it to be in Oklahoma. I'll probably have a pretty light schedule indoors."
He said he has some paperwork to complete this week in Bozeman and plans to be in Norman, Okla., by Sunday night -- in time for the beginning of the spring semester, which begins Tuesday.
"I am very excited to get down there," Casey said. "I went down on a visit and it felt right. I am excited to have several guys with me every day who can push me. It's also going to be fun to mix it up with some of the best guys in the country on a more regular basis."
He added that a realistic goal this year is to chop about three or four seconds off his 1,500 personal best -- down to 3:38 or 3:37 -- by the time the Olympic Trials hit Eugene, Ore., on June 22-July 1.
"If I am able to do that, that would put me in pretty good position to do well there," Casey said.