AUSTIN, Texas - Montana sophomores Katrina Drennen and Kesslee Payne both finished in the top five in their heats to advance to the regional final in the 1,500 meters Thursday afternoon at the NCAA West Region preliminary round.
Drennen ran a non-altitude-adjusted career-best time of 4:23.88 to finish fifth in the third of four heats. Her time broke her own school record of 4:24.23, which she set at the Montana Open in mid April.
Payne ran a career-best 4:24.95 to finish fourth in heat four. Payne's time would have broken the Montana 1,500-meter record of 4:25.21, set by Sabrina Monro in 1999, had Drennen not beaten her to it.
The top five in each heat advanced to Saturday's finals, along with the next four fastest times.
Drennen and Payne will compete Saturday at 5:30 p.m. MDT in the two-heat finals. The top five in each of those heats, plus the next two fastest times, will advance to the NCAA championships, which will be held June 9-12 in Eugene, Ore.
Drennen, who is competing at her second straight NCAA regional meet, and Payne, who's competing at her first, both got out with the lead pack in their heats and used strong moves in the back half of the race to finish in the top five.
"Things went perfectly for both of them," UM distance coach Courtney Babcock said. "They ran just the way we laid it out. They got out fast and hung in the back of the lead pack so they'd be able to cover any breaks."
Oregon freshman Jordan Hasay had the fastest time of the day, going 4:20.45. The 24 athletes advancing to Saturday's two-heat finals all finished in 4:26.14 or better.
Payne came back three hours later to compete in the 800 meters, but she did not advance beyond the preliminary round, finishing in a time of 2:20.25.
Montana was also represented in the men's javelin Thursday by juniors Richard Brumbaugh and Jason Flemmer, and freshman Justin Graff. None of the three advanced to the 16-athlete round of finals.
Brumbaugh ranked 23rd in the preliminaries with a throw of 205-9. Flemmer, the Big Sky Conference champion two weekends ago, was 33rd at 192-7 and Graff was 43rd at 178-4.
Montana will have just one athlete competing Friday. Freshman Austin Emry will compete in the high jump beginning at 3 p.m. MDT.