AUSTIN, Texas -- Eleven athletes from the Montana track and field teams will compete in the three-day NCAA West Regional starting Thursday.
The West Regional will mirror the East Regional, held this week in Lexington, Ky. The top 12 finishers from each region’s event fields of 48 will advance to the NCAA Championships, held in two weeks at Eugene, Ore.
The eleven qualifiers -- seven of whom are first-timers to regionals, five of whom are true or redshirt freshmen -- matches the most for the program under ninth-year coach Brian Schweyen, who took 10 athletes in 2011 and ’16, and 11 in 2013, when the meet also was at Austin.
Montana tied with Sacramento State for the third-most regional qualifiers in the Big Sky. Northern Arizona is sending 18 individuals, Weber State had 13 qualifiers.
Making her third appearance will be senior Sammy Evans, who qualified in the triple jump in 2014 and both the long and triple jumps last spring. She qualified in the triple jump this year.
Competing at regionals for the second time in their careers will be senior Daniel Jones, in the javelin, junior Hana Feilzer, in the hammer, and junior Matt Quist, in the high jump.
Three of the first-timers will join Jones in throwing the javelin. Freshman Darby Henthorn will compete in the women’s javelin, redshirt freshman Brady Coffman and freshman Kyle Morris in the men’s.
Junior Emily Cheroske and freshman Carly Smiedala will race the 800 meters, junior Jessica Bailey the steeplechase, and redshirt freshman Jane Booth will compete in the high jump.
“It’s a great group that covers a wide range of event areas," Schweyen said. "It just shows the great things the coaches and staff are doing to improve the team across the board to make it stronger."
Sitting 18th out of 48 in the triple jump, with her season-best mark of 42 feet, 8.25 inches from the Montana Open, Evans doesn’t have the team’s best position -- that belongs to Feilzer -- but hers is the story that will be most intriguing to watch unfold on Saturday evening.
Evans has been to regionals, she’s won six Big Sky Conference titles in the jumps, but one thing she hasn’t done is advance to nationals. As a fifth-year senior, this week is her final shot.
She placed 14th in the triple jump last May at Lawrence, Kan., missing nationals by two spots and less than two inches.
“She wants it. She’s thought about it a long, long time,” said Schweyen. “She’s ready to go. It’s something she and (jumps coach Adam Bork) have had constant discussions about. Adam has covered all the bases necessary to get Sammy’s mind where it needs to be.”
Feilzer is sitting 10th in the region in the hammer, with her career-best and school-record throw of 206-3 two weeks ago while winning a Big Sky title at Sacramento, Calif. It was the third time this spring the Missoula product has thrown farther than 204 feet.
Feilzer’s PR at Sacramento State has her ranked fifth in Big Sky history.
As with all the field events at Austin, it will be a true and fair competition, full of pressure to bring it the moment it needs to be brought. Every athlete gets three attempts and three only. The top 12 will advance to nationals.
“Even for the best competitors who are sitting at the top of the list at regionals, nothing is a given,” said Schweyen. “You have to go out and perform, and that’s the beauty of this meet. It gives everybody a chance to do it. Hana is one of those people with a perfect opportunity.”