MOSCOW, Idaho -- On the final day of the final conference meet in its final season in the Big Sky Conference, the University of North Dakota track and field team made it a day to remember.
Senior Molli Detloff was named Big Sky Outdoor MVP for the second straight year, juniors Nolan Hovland (high jump) and Kyley Foster (pole vault) won conference championships, and freshman Autumn Stokes broke a 14-year old school record in the triple jump to lead the Fighting Hawks on Friday.
UND also got all-conference performances from Katelyn Weber (2nd in the shot put), Matt Culhane (2nd in the discus), Chris Evenson (3rd in the discus) and the men's 400-meter relay team (3rd), bringing the team's total podium appearances to 13 on the week.
That's the highest-such number at a conference meet since UND transitioned to Division I a decade ago.
The Fighting Hawks finished fifth in the team standings with the men placing seventh, the best-ever showing for the latter at a Big Sky meet. North Dakota will join The Summit League in 2018-19 but for now, UND coaches and student-athletes were enjoying their Big Sky swan song.
“I had a lot of fun, it was super-exciting, but I am exhausted,” said a jubilant North Dakota Head Coach Kevin Galbraith following the meet. “A lot of things from today will stay in my memory for a long time.”
At the top of Galbraith’s mental scrapbook will be junior thrower Detloff, who repeated as Big Sky Outdoor Athlete of the Meet. The Elk River, Minn., native competed in just one event on Friday – scoring points in the shot put with a sixth-place effort – but that was plenty enough to win her second straight MVP after capturing the discus and placing second in the hammer on Thursday.
UND Assistant Coach Drew Jones, who coaches the program’s throwers, said multiple Big Sky colleagues approached him throughout the meet to praise UND’s Female Athlete of the Year.
“I had coaches walk up to me and comment on the way she handles herself. Cool and collected,” said Jones. “That’s all you can ask of an athlete at a championship, is to execute to the best of her ability and she certainly did that.”
Detlfof didn’t take center stage in the shot put for UND, however. That distinction went to senior Katelyn Weber, the reigning conference champion in the event. Weber finished second today with a throw of 48 feet, ½ inch (14.64 meters).
“I thought she competed hard and competed well to get on the podium. I’m proud of her,” Jones said of Weber. “Things just never got going in that event like they did later in the day, but three girls made the finals and you can’t ask for much more than that.
The third Fighting Hawk, Keely Walker, also provided points with a seventh-place finish on the strength of a throw of 47-2 ½ (14.39).
On the men’s side, redshirt freshman Matt Culhane and true freshman Chris Evenson finished 2-3 in the discus and landed the second- and third-best throws in school history, respectively. Culhane topped out at 179-4 (54.67m) and Evenson hit 178-10 (54.52).
Additionally, senior captain Ian Collins came through with a seventh-place finish.
“The emotions got going right away in that event and it was fun to watch,” said Jones. “As soon as the prelims started, Chris came out and hit a big throw. Matt just fed off of it and they both kept rolling. Ian, in his kind of journeyman mentality, got in there and mixed it up and got points for us as well.”
“When Matt and Chris got going early, it really made other people tighten up and no one else really found that big throw to catch up to them. It’s nice to have some younger kids filling in behind [the veterans] and it’s great to know the future is bright in the throws as we move into The Summit League.”
On this day, UND’s throwers – typically the headliners for the Fighting Hawks – happily shared the spotlight with the team’s jumpers, who provided to event titles and a school record.
Hovland’s event-winning high jump of 7-0 ¼ (2.14m) made him just the second individual in UND history to clear seven feet. The Rugby, N.D. native fell just under a half-inch short of Marc Sondreal’s school record of 7-1 ½ set in 1998.
UND jumps coach Joe Silvers said Hovland was locked in right from the start.
"His warmups were the best I've seen all year. Once the competition started, he never let up," said Silvers. 'He continually put pressure on the rest of the field his first-attempt makes. His execution really made the difference. He had been chasing seven feet since his freshman year and for him to break through that barrier, it was a very special moment."
Hovland actually tied Southern Utah’s Frank Harris for the top mark in the event, but Hovland had cleared every bar on his first attempt before going out, enabling him to take the conference crown outright.
“That’s what won him the competition: they had the same height, but Nolan had fewer misses,” said Galbraith. “That was one of the most exciting competitions of the day. A little under an inch away [from the school record], but he’s got a couple more years to get after it.”
In the women’s jumps, junior Kyley Foster also came through with a conference championship in the pole vault. She maxed out at 13-0 ¼ (3.97m).
“It wasn’t a great day for jumping. It was cold and a little blustery, but she competed well and hit a very good mark anyway. That’s what you need to do at a conference championship, is battle like that,” said Galbraith.
Silvers said the elements had Foster right in her element.
"The entire field seemed to be struggling with the cool temps. Kyley really thrives when she has people pushing her and she certainly had that today. To come home a champion is a pretty special thing."
A freshman also made history in the jumps for UND as Autumn Stokes broke the 14-year-old school record in the triple jump. She recorded a leap of 38-5 (11.71m) to eclipse the record of 38-4 ¼ held by Nikki Sims since 2004.
“She had her best day on the right day,” said Galbraith. “She was competing against a bunch of juniors and seniors from really good programs. She wanted to do well and she did.”
On the track, the rookie quartet of Delante’ Sykes, Oluwaseyi Aguda, Shandon Toenies and Ethan Buckles ran the second-fastest 400 relay in school history, claiming third place with a time of 41.36 seconds.
“To come in ranked ninth and come out third? Amazing,” said Galbraith. “Four freshmen pulled together and found a way to run fast when they needed to. That was a really nice surprise.”
When UND debuted in the Big Sky in 2012-13, it’s men’s and women’s teams both finished 11th in the team standings and claimed but two individual all-conference honors. Six years later, the Fighting Hawks will bid adieu to the Big Sky having garnered 13 all-conference awards, three event championships and one school record in its farewell meet.
“What a way to go out in the Big Sky,” said Galbraith. “We couldn’t have asked for a much better weekend. It’s great to go out on a strong note. They definitely left their mark on the conference. If we can bring that momentum into the Summit League and lift some of our other events…do I like where we’re going? You bet. I can’t tell you how proud I am.”
WOMEN’S TEAM STANDINGS
- Northern Arizona, 128 points
- Sacramento State, 113
- Weber State, 88.50
- Montana State, 77
- North Dakota, 75
- Eastern Washington, 61
- Southern Utah, 59
- Northern Colorado, 56
- Idaho State, 52
- Montana, 40
- Portland State, 38.50
- Idaho, 29
MEN’S TEAM STANDINGS
- Northern Arizona, 131
- Southern Utah, 122
- Montana State, 119
- Eastern Washington, 92
- Sacramento State, 85
- Weber State, 63
- North Dakota, 50
- Northern Colorado, 37
- Montana, 36
- Idaho, 34
- Portland State, 25
- Idaho State, 24