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Huntley finishing strong for Lady Griz track team
University of Montana photo Andrea Huntley has battled numerous stress fracture injuries in her University of Montana track career. Two weekends ago at the Montana-Montana State dual, the Sidney native ran a personal-best time of 55.75 in the 400-meter dash.

Andrea Huntley ran 400 meters in less than 59 seconds in high school, and for five years she did not get any faster.

The Sidney native and University of Montana sprinter may not win the 400 at the Big Sky Conference track and field championships this weekend in Bozeman — she has the sixth-best time in the conference right now — but her career is a testament to perseverance. She's overcome stress fractures in both feet and the daunting world of college track to be a solid performer for the Grizzlies.

On Satur-day, the senior will end a college career that almost didn't get out of the starting blocks.

"I wasn't going to do it," said Huntley, who has placed fourth in the 400 — running it in 56.2 seconds each time — at the last two Big Sky outdoor championships. "Because I had such a horrid end of my high school career. My senior year I kind of got back into it, but my junior year was horrible."

But. "Ever since I was in high school I dreamed of running college track," she said. "My dad really wanted me to do it. He said, 'You might as well try it, because if you don't, you'll always wonder.'

"So I did. And it ended up pretty well."

A vicious cycle It started out pretty well in Missoula, too. As a freshman she ran on the Grizzlies' indoor 400 relay team along with Andy Garreffa, Sarah Barkley and Holly Gabbert, and helped set the school record (3:49.24) in that event.

Then came another stress fracture — she's had so many of them she can't remember which foot it was — which kept her out of the following outdoor season.

It was a recurrent nightmare. Her feet had hurt as far back as her freshman year in high school, when she surprisingly edged Billings Central's Garreffa in the State A 400. A less fleet sophomore campaign eventually led to X-rays, where "you could see the calcium deposits where they (the fractures) were starting to heal on both feet."

But what once brought her down may have been a blessing this time. She had walked on to the track team, and being out of action let her hit the books. "She was kind of here to get her degree," recalled coach Tom Raunig, who's seen Huntley increase her scholarship from her sophomore season on. "That made it where she kept everything in perspective. She was also able to keep a balance in there, where the injuries didn't make her give up."

For Huntley, rehabilitation took two forms: Physical and mental. "I think mostly, to be honest, I was a little more mentally challenged through my junior year in high school," she said. "I definitely learned a lot mentally in college."

She's learned a lot, period. She took 21 credits this semester ("I was swamped," said Huntley, who has finals this week), and she has nine more this summer. By then she'll have degrees in business and communications studies. Along the way she found her stride.

Perseverance pays off Her sophomore year at UM brought the best of times, in more ways than one. She finally re-set her personal record, with that 56.2 at the Big Sky meet. "We had so much fun," she said, noting that former Cascade and Montana State standout Harry Clark joined the staff as sprints coach that season. "I finally realized that you have your bad days, and you have your good days. I decided track is a big part of my life, but not my whole life.

"I really helped me to realize I had other things going for me. And I ran good. I had good friends, and a good team, and a good coach."

Two weekends ago at the Montana-Montana State dual she ran a personal-best again, in 55.75. A 55-flat would qualify her for the NCAA regional meet in Lincoln May 30-31.

"I've been cutting every weekend," she said. "I ran 55.81 the weekend before that. It had been half a second, at least, every weekend." Then she laughs. "I'm hoping I drop another half-second in the prelims (Friday) then maybe another half in the finals."

Raunig thinks its possible. "On paper she has the sixth-best time," he said. "But she usually finishes higher than what she is picked. She is capable of qualifying for regionals. I'm sure that's a goal."

The team itself projects to score 69 1/2 points this weekend, but Raunig and Huntley think the Griz will go higher. "We've had people improving their marks every weekend," Huntley said. "You go through indoor season, and then you get outside and you can kind of plateau, and everybody can get down on themselves. It's kind of nice to see us all dropping time."

They might have learned it from Huntley.