The Carroll College indoor track and field season begins in earnest today when the Saints head to Bozeman for the Montana State Open at Brick Breeden Fieldhouse, and coach Matt Morris has reason to be excited.
The Saints are healthy and some should be in the hunt for victories in a meet that features athletes from NCAA Division I Montana State and Eastern Washington, NCAA Division II Montana State Billings and the University of Mary (N.D.), and NAIA foes University of Great Falls and Rocky Mountain.
For some athletes, this won’t be the first meet. Morris took a partial squad down to Nampa, Idaho, late last year, where five athletes posted NAIA indoor championship qualifying performances. Junior Troy Solly (men’s 800, 1:54.81), junior Easton Padden (men’s pole vault, 16 feet, 4.75 inches), freshman Dan East (men’s high jump, 6-8.75), freshman Sandy Torres (women’s 800, 2:17.32) and sophomore Latecia Howell (women’s long jump, 18-1.5) already have automatically qualified for March’s NAIA championship meet.
Padden, East and Howell will all be among the favorites in their events in Bozeman, while Solly and Torres will switch gears and run the mile as they prepare to run the distance medley relay next week in Pocatello, Idaho.
“We’re trying to make a push on the men’s and women’s distance teams to run really well in the medley next week, because you don’t get a lot of opportunities to run those, so we’ll have most of our kids running the mile this week,” said Morris, who added that distance runners Rhianna Grossman and Ariel Murtaugh are redshirting the indoor season. “For the sprinters, this will be a good place for us to qualify in the 55, because it’s a fast track.
“Our goal at this meet is to win some events, and I definitely think we’re capable of doing that.”
Grossman and Murtaugh helped the Saints to a fifth-place finish at the NAIA cross country championships in November. Grossman placed second in the 3,000 at last year’s indoor national championships.
Padden, a Laurel High graduate who placed third at NAIA indoors and fifth at outdoors last season, enters with the best mark in the field. Teammate Josh Seeburger is seeded with a mark of 15-5, while Eastern Washington’s Nick Stearns has cleared 15-11 and Montana State’s Ryan Kropp, a Capital High graduate, is seeded at 15-5.
East, a native of Australia who attended Washington’s Bellingham High last year, enters the meet with the top mark in the high jump, but should face a stiff challenge from Eastern Washington’s Cody Fishel (6-6.75) and Thomas Kassa (6-6.75) and University of Mary’s Joe Berger (6-6) and Kendall Kautz (6-6).
Howell, a graduate of Idaho’s Lakeland High, will likely need a big performance to win the long jump, where she’s seeded third behind Eastern Washington’s Keisa Monterola (18-3) and Sierra Arlauskus (18-2.5). Howell is also entered in the 55 and shot put.
“I think Easton has a really good shot in the pole vault,” Morris said. “Dan’s the real deal, too. He’s ranked second in the NAIA in the high jump and he cleared 6-8.75 without a miss. He’ll have a good chance to score at nationals.
“I think Latecia is going to have a big year. I hope she’ll step up and really pop a big one in the long jump this week.”
Sophomore Kathleen Mulligan, who was an NAIA All-American indoors (fifth) and outdoors (second) last year, will compete for the first time this season in the triple jump, where she’s seeded first with a mark of 40-2.25.
Prized recruit Derrick Williams, who led the men’s cross country team to a Frontier Conference championship in November, will make his debut in the mile. The Columbia Falls product posted a personal best of 4:18 in high school, and he’ll likely find himself in contention today if he runs any faster than that.
Morris said the team has been able to practice at Vigilante Stadium regularly, which has helped keep the team sharp, despite missing a meet two weeks ago in Pocatello because of heavy snow.
“We’ve been pretty fortunate, because the weather has been pretty decent across the board,” Morris said. “The kids are looking good. I was panicking a little more a couple weeks ago, but we’ve been practicing well and I like what I see.”
This will be the first of four consecutive weeks of competition for the Saints. They’ll travel to Pocatello the next two weekends, then will return to Bozeman on Feb. 15. They’ll follow those meets with a week off before nationals on Feb. 28-March 2 in Geneva, Ohio.
“This is a great chance to go in there and be competitive, to see where we’re actually at,” Morris said. “This will be a good litmus test for us.”