MISSOULA — Elise Stearns didn't have to run much on Thursday afternoon at Missoula County Stadium.
The Hellgate High distance runner was only tasked with competing in the 1,600-relay, the final event of the day after she competed over the weekend at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational in California.
But while Thursday was a relatively easy day for the senior, Stearns will figure to play a big role for the Knights as the track & field season moves forward.
Not only will she aim to go out with a bang for her high school career, Stearns recently committed to run cross country and track & field at Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff. While she took her time in deciding where she wanted to attend, Stearns visited the school back in January and said she could tell it was the one for her.
"It's a lot like Missoula but a little smaller, and I like that outdoor feel and being so close to the mountains," she said. "And the altitude there is pretty perfect for running.
"Right after I left I felt like I knew."
Stearns is coming off a cross country season where she placed fifth overall at the state meet as Hellgate snapped Bozeman's streak of 11 state championships to take first. Stearns also visited Montana and the University of New Mexico while weighing college options.
Now, it's about carrying that cross country momentum into track season.
"We're still the same distance squad running together every day and pushing each other to do our best individually," Stearns said. "I think it's just seeing your teammates do their best and you trying to do your best is how you carry it."
And when she competed at Arcadia over the weekend, Stearns said she met some of her future teammates who will join her at NAU as well. She finished in 14th place out of 14 in the seeded one mile with a time of 5:24.56.
"I didn't have the race I wanted at all but it's great to go down there and compete and it's a really fun time so I couldn't be too bummed about it," Stearns said. "It was kind of hard to start off like that because I still have some pretty big goals."
Though rain and a little bit of snow was off and on during Thursday's meet, plenty of athletes still got a chance to get some reps under their belt as the three Class AA Missoula schools competed in a triangular. It was originally a quad with Butte in the mix but the Bulldogs were unable to attend.
Among those who stood out, Sentinel senior Brock Field finished with a win in the discus (143-11) and tied for the win in the shot put with teammate Brandon Spencer at 47-08. Field also finished second in the javelin behind fellow Spartan Rylan Ortt with a toss of 162-08.
Field returns to Sentinel as a two-time state placer from a year ago. Field placed fifth in the discus at state last year for Sentinel and sixth in the javelin. He ranks at No. 6 in the state regardless of classification in both events.
He's only had two meets to compete in so far, so Field said knocking the rust off has been the main focus so far.
"The start's been a little bit slower but I think things will start to pick up at these next couple of meets," Field said. "The plan for the whole season is setting ourselves up for state. We don't want to be peaking in the middle of the season."
Some of that has been only five-step approaches in the javelin and half-rotations in the shot put and discus to focus on their techniques so when state rolls around they'll have the best form.
Ortt was the runner-up in the javelin last year, so he and Field have been able to push each other each day as competitors and teammates.
"We're both competitive so when one guy beats the other, he has to go beat him the next week," Field said. "It's one of those things where it's a back-and-forth competition all the time and I think that's really healthy for us.
"He got me this week so I have to go get him now."
Field, who will play football at Montana Tech in the fall, is one of a number of Sentinel athletes who make up a talented boys roster who could make some noise at state.
"We're having a ton of fun. It's just kind of our brotherhood. It's our last big thing together," Field said. "So we're really enjoying it."
Big Sky junior thrower Erin Murphy is another who has come out of the gates strong. Murphy won the discus and shot put at the Big Sky triangular last week and followed up with a second place performance in the discus on Thursday. She also took third in the shot put.
Murphy has big shoes to fill with the loss of Brooke Kearns, who was a state champion discus thrower a year ago. But her strong start in the first two meets has her ready to help boost a Big Sky girls squad that is primed to be one of the top teams at the state meet later in May.
"I think it's a lot of hard work to fill in the shoes of Brooke and some of our other seniors from last year," Murphy said. "I'm just trying to pick up some more points for our team so hopefully we can place at the big meets.
"(Last week) gave me a lot of confidence going into these next few weeks."
Murphy has been throwing as a varsity member since she was a freshman and has been looked at as a leader for this year's group, a role she's embraced.
"It's kind of fun just helping out the younger kids," Murphy said. "I'd like to place at state and hopefully get there in a couple of events."
Sentinel's Ashley McElmurry won three events for the Spartans on Thursday, winning both hurdles and the triple jump. Both of Big Sky's relays teams also walked away with wins.
Thursday's meet was not scored.
Other winners on the girls side: Emily Ratz, Hellgate, 100; Hadlea Fred, Big Sky, 200; Madi Provo, Hellgate, 400; Madison Edwards, Big Sky, 800; Abby Kendrick, Hellgate, 1,600; Isabel Munro, Hellgate, 3,200; Gillian Sherrill, Hellgate, high jump; Isabella Reed, Big Sky, pole vault; Whitney Morrison, Big Sky, long jump; Allison Halverson, Hellgate, shot put; Kylie Lunday, Hellgate, discus; Piper Pfister, Hellgate, javelin.
Joining Field as a double-winner on the boys side was Elias Dewaters, who won both the long jump and triple jump. Sentinel won the 400-relay while Big Sky won the 1,600-relay.
Other winners on the boys side: Eli Broome, Big Sky, 110 hurdles; Lamar Rhoades, Sentinel, 300 hurdles; Jayden Foster, Sentinel, 100; Payton Ater, Sentinel, 200; Noah McNelis, Sentinel, 400; Ian Curtis, Hellgate, 800; Lucas Horejsi, Hellgate, 1,600; Sean Stineford, Big Sky, 3,200; Bryson Muchmore, Sentinel, high jump; Josh Smalley, Big Sky, pole vault.