MISSOULA — Montana State freshman Duncan Hamilton was preparing for the Class AA state championships at this time last year.
Twelve months later, Hamilton has a Big Sky Conference championship to add to his collection. The Bozeman grad won the men’s 3,000-meter steeplechase on Friday at Dornblaser Field and was the lone Montana or Montana State athlete to win an event on the third of four days at the conference’s outdoor track and field championships.
“I’m just super happy right now,” Hamilton said after receiving his first-place medal. “Especially as a freshman, to be able to come away with a conference championship, I’m just really satisfied with my season but mostly just looking forward to running three more conference championships and keep training with my teammates.”
Hamilton led the race from wire to wire, winning in 9 minutes, 10.17 seconds and finishing 2.18 seconds ahead of Northern Arizona senior Kyle Havriliak. He then spent 33 seconds catching his breath while hunched over one of the hurdles, which he had never even tried to jump over before his freshman year of college.
“The steeplechase really makes you more tired than a regular race,” Hamilton said. “It just takes everything out of your legs. I felt like I gave it pretty much everything I had and was just happy to come away on top.”
Hamilton’s time wasn’t a personal record, but he was still happy with his performance.
“I felt like it was a pretty honest race,” Hamilton said. “I don’t like just sitting on someone and then trying to outkick them at the end. I try to run an honest pace from the start to the end, and so that’s what I tried to do today.”
Montana senior Alex Lewis took second place at the outdoor championships for the third time in his career. He tied his personal best with a jump of 25 feet, 2 inches and finished 2.5 inches behind Eastern Washington junior Keshun McGee.
“It’s definitely a little bittersweet just because first is always the goal,” Lewis said. “With our conference and how it’s been this year, we have three guys in the top 15 in the west and we’re sitting better than a lot the Big 12 and Pac-12. I just kind of like going with that, kind of take it with a grain of salt. It’s good competition.”
The Montana State men are seventh with 26 points heading into the final day.
“My goal this weekend was to just score as many points for the team,” Lewis said. “We’re kind of shorthanded. We’re redshirting a lot of people. I like that pressure because we just have a few kids.”
Montana State had three other placers in the top three. Senior Layne Oliver from Three Forks took third in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase (10 minutes, 45.76 seconds). Senior Kelsi Lasota was third in the women’s 10,000-meter run (36 minutes, 26.95 seconds). Junior Carly Vonheeder from Plains finished third in the javelin throw (151 feet, 4 inches).
The MSU women scored 25 points and sit in a tie for seventh. Eastern Washington leads with 42 points, and third-place Montana has 31 for the final spot on the podium.
Two Griz place
Montana high jumper Matt Quist came into the Big Sky track and field championships in Missoula with the second-best jump but was nervous about how he’d perform on Friday.
Quist had spent the past two weeks at his home in Bigfork while dealing with a personal situation that he said related to mental health issues with which he’s dealt. The redshirt senior ended up emerging from his final collegiate meet with a second-place finish in the high jump at Dornblaser Field.
“I’ve been on antidepressants, and today was my first meet this year when I wasn’t completely on pharmaceuticals,” Quist offered. “I finally got off of that. That was scary for me because without them, I didn’t know what I’d be like. I thought I’d have a hard time competing without them, but today I was able to do that because I had the support of my teammates.”
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Quist, a Kalispell Flathead grad, finished second in the high jump for the third time at the outdoor championships. His jump of 6 feet, 8.25 inches was just 1.25 inches shy of Southern Utah sophomore Frank Harris III, who came into the meet tied for ninth in Division I.
“I think that the jumps felt a little rushed and it felt like I didn’t have coordination with my muscles,” Quist said. “Just listening to my teammates cheer me on, it kind of took me back to my younger days and reminded me of why I started doing track. I really feel like that’s why I did so well.”
Quist, a two-time regional qualifier, had a lifetime best of 7 feet, 1 inch in the high jump a few years back but felt the anxiety and depression he’s dealt with for about a year and a half have kept him from reaching that mark again.
Montana head coach Brian Schweyen thought it was “awesome” that Quist rebounded to close his career with a second-place finish.
“Matt has been through a lot of situations and battling some things personally,” Schweyen said. “For him to get second today, it’s something I think he really needed. At the same time, he earned it and deserved it. I thought it was fantastic, and I couldn’t be happier for him.”
Quist’s second-place finish gave the Griz men eight points and has them sitting in second place with 37 points. Northern Arizona leads with 50 points, and Southern Utah is third with 34.33.
“For me, this year between grad school and working and trying to figure my life out, my team has been my biggest supporting source I could have asked for,” Quist said. “Knowing I got eight points to help us achieve something together, they’re definitely the reason why I did so good today.”
He added: “I’m happy that I got to take second place. Today has been the best day I’ve had in years.”
Montana had one other placer in the top three. Freshman Jansen Ziola took third in the women’s long jump with a leap of 19 feet, 9.5 inches to end up 6.75 inches behind the winner.
The Montana women are third as a team with 31 points. Eastern Washington leads with 42, and Idaho State has 37.
There were 11 Griz who advanced to the finals. The women were Ziola and Morgan Sulser in the 100-meter hurdles, Maryn Lowry in the 1,500-meter run, Carly Smiedala and Megan Franz in the 800-meter run, and Olivia Ellis in the women’s 400-meter hurdles.
The men who qualified for the finals were Xavier Melice in the 400-meter dash and 200-meter dash, Paul Johnstone in the 400-meter dash, Alex Mustard in the 100-meter dash, Noah Adams in the 800-meter run and Callum Macnab in the 400-meter hurdles.
Ten Bobcats qualified for the finals, highlighted by Drake Schneider, who had the best time (51.79) in the men’s 400-meter hurdles. The other men were Henry Adams and Derrick Olsen in 100-meter hurdles.
The women qualifiers were Patricia Carlson in the 1,500-meter run, Morgan Evans and Elena Carter in the women’s 100-meter hurdles, McKenna Ramsay and Elisabeth Krieger in the 400-meter dash, Truanne Roginske in the 100-meter dash and Hailey Phillips in the 400-meter hurdles.
Notes: Southern Utah junior Aidan Reed, a Helena High grad, won the men’s 10,000-meter run. His time of 29 minutes, 53.47 seconds gave him a win by 10.79 seconds. … Eastern Washington sophomore Katrina Terry, a Billings West grad, took third in the women’s pole vault, clearing a height of 12 feet, 6.75 inches.