Montana junior Jensen Lillquist is once again on top.
Two years ago after winning a Big Sky Conference individual title in the men’s javelin — and a year removed from a redshirt season that kept him out of competition last spring — Lillquist is once again champion, and better than ever.
As a sophomore in 2016, the junior threw a mark of 223 feet, 1-inch to win the conference title and advance to NCAA Regionals. He’ll now return to the NCAA West Regional, currently holding the nation’s 24th-best throw (13th in the region) after a top mark of 226-5 on Thursday.
“He lives and breathes javelin more than anyone I’ve ever coached, and I think it absolutely showed today,” head coach Brian Schweyen said. “He had a great day.”
Lillquist has been dominant all season, now winning the javelin in six of seven meets. His mark during last week’s tuneup (222-2) was a season best by more than 10 feet, but he still needed another 11 feet to reach Skyler Porcaro of Southern Utah.
The Thunderbird thrower led through three throws on Thursday, earning a top mark of 214-9 compared to Lillquist’s best throw of 211-10. With each thrower getting three more attempts, Lillquist took advantage.
Porcaro had his best throw on his fifth attempt — 216-10 — but so did Lillquist. His throw of 226-5 was not only good enough to win the title, it was also a PR and within eight inches of Dane Brubaker’s 2005 school record.
“It’s really exciting,” Lillquist said. “I expected to get first and knew I could because I feel like I’ve been peaking, but to actually accomplish it again is just really exciting.”
In addition to Lillquist, junior Luke Hilmes placed fifth (188-7) to score four points for the Griz. John Beckers earned a ninth-place finish (180-0), followed by Will Jones (172-1, 13th) and Brady Coffman (163-0, 16th).
“He understands the event better now than he did two years ago,” Schweyen said about Lillquist. “It’s an event that happens so quickly, but I think it’s moving slower in his mind now so he can feel and do things better.”
Sophomore Holly Houston entered the championships as one of the Big Sky’s top discus throwers, and she proved it on Thursday, reaching the podium with a third-place finish. All six of Houston’s throws reached at least 145 feet, with her final attempt being measured at 159-4.
“Holly had a great day,” Schweyen said. “If you talk to her, she’d tell you she wanted more, but at the same time, she did everything right today. She competed really well, and it’s not easy to get to the podium, so you celebrate that every time.”
In addition to expected success in the men’s javelin and women’s discus, the Grizzlies also received a couple surprise performances.
Hannah Coburn, a versatile athlete from Missoula, scored in the long jump with a sixth-place result. The sophomore entered the meet seeded 27th in the Big Sky before she posted a career-best jump of 18-11.25. The jump was a PR by more than 5 inches and a season best by more than 15.
Freshman Brent Yeakey also had a career day, placing fourth in the men’s shot put. He had a career-best throw of 55-2, marking the fifth consecutive meet he has increased his PR. Junior Charlie Bush scored for the first time in his outdoor career, placing eighth in the men’s pole vault (15-1.5).
Montana knew it had potential in the women’s 800 meters — with Carly Smiedala entering as the No. 2 seed and Emily Cheroske as the No. 7 — but got a big lift from Madeline Hamilton as well.
The freshman from Missoula won the 800-meter prelims with a PR of 2:12.65. As expected, Cheroske (2:13.09, third) and Smiedala (2:13.57, eighth) also advanced, giving the Grizzlies three of the eight runners in Friday’s finals.
“That’s a great group of runners,” Schweyen said. “We expected big things today, and we expect big things again tomorrow. Vicky (Pounds) has done a great job with that event.”
Also advancing on Thursday was sophomore Chase Armstrong — who placed seventh in the men’s 400-meter hurdle prelims after being seeded 13th (PR 54.84), junior Jonathan Eastwood — who finished 12th in the men’s 1,500 meters (PR 3:58.80) — and freshman Jacob Lamb — seventh in the men’s 800 meters (1:54.00).
The championships will conclude on Friday. In addition to the finals of the women’s 800 meters, Montana is expected to perform well in the women’s javelin.