May 26, 2012
The University of Montana's outdoor track and field season came to a close Saturday on the final day of the NCAA West Preliminary Championships at Austin, Texas. Sophomore Austin Emry no-heighted in the high jump and senior Katrina Drennen finished 13th in the 5,000 meters.
The Grizzlies will not have a representative at nationals for the first time since 2009.
Emry was the first to compete Saturday afternoon, and he produced the same result he had when he competed in the high jump at regionals at Austin in 2010: three misses and done.
In 2010 it was slick footing on a steamy surface in conditions that were blistering even by Texas's standards. This year he was done in by a bruised heel he suffered two weeks ago at the Big Sky Conference championships, the same heel that kept him from being at his best Thursday in the long jump.
"Austin was ready today, but he's been dealing with that heel since conference, and he was a little hesitant on it," UM track and field program director Brian Schweyen said. "And if you're not planting your heel in the high jump, you're not going up."
Only the best of the best qualify for regionals, so the opening height in the high jump started at 6-8. It's a height that is less than four inches under Emry's career best of 6-11.75.
Emry was one of seven athletes from the field of 48 to miss his first three attempts at the opening height.
"Austin said it took him until his third jump before he felt comfortable and confident, so I think if the bar had started at something like 6-5 he would have been fine, but that's the nature of this meet. You need to come ready to roll," Schweyen said.
Emry still has two seasons of indoor and two seasons of outdoor competition remaining. His youthful fortune of being able to look ahead to next year was not one shared by Drennen going into her race.
With the top five finishers in each of the 5,000 meters' two heats advancing to nationals, plus the next two fastest times, Drennen needed to finish a minimum of seventh in the opening heat to give herself an opportunity to finish among the region's top 12.
She finished eighth, and with the second heat running slower times, Drennen finished a frustrating 13th overall in a time of 16:35.61.
"You kind of keep track of your position when you're racing," Drennen said. "But it was a good experience, and I feel like I did my best."
The leaders went through the first mile in 4:55. Drennen was just off the lead pack and came through at five minutes even.
"Coming through in five minutes is different than I'm used to, but I think I stayed in the race mentally," she said. "I think I was in 12th at one point, and I just tried to pick people off.
"I was pretty proud that nobody passed me."
With 1,000 to go Drennen moved up to eighth, but it also left her chasing the seventh-place runner on her own. It was a gap she could not bridge with a solo effort.
She would finish 18 seconds back of Oregon freshman Allison Woodward, who came in seventh and earned the region's 12th and final spot to nationals, and 18 seconds ahead of ninth.
"Katrina responded well to the pace of the race, but sometimes there is only so much you can do," UM distance coach Courtney Babcock said. "Those runners ahead of her looked really good."
And with the end of her Montana career, a new water-cooler argument can commence: Where does Drennen stack up against the top distance runners in Montana history?
The discussion probably comes down to three names: Drennen, Shelley Smathers and Sabrina Monro.
Smathers was an indoor all-American in the 5,000 meters and an outdoor all-American in both the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. Monro finished second at the 2000 NCAA cross country championships and was an indoor all-American in the 3,000 meters.
"I wasn't around for any of the other runners who would be in the discussion, but Katrina is definitely one of the top performers the program has ever had," Schweyen said.
"She's been a fantastic runner. She scored a lot of points for us, she was a great teammate, and she always left everything on the track."
Drennen does not have the accomplishments at the national level that Smathers and Monro produced, but she put together an impressive body of work.
She advanced to nationals in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track and holds the school record in the indoor mile and outdoor 1,500 and 5,000 meters. She is also part of school-record relay teams for the indoor distance medley relay and outdoor 4x800 meters.
Drennen finished sixth or higher at all four Big Sky Conference cross country championships and in 2010 led Montana to its first team title since 1984.
She won five Big Sky individual and relay track titles, she earned second-team all-America honors in the indoor mile in 2011, and she advanced to outdoor nationals as both a sophomore and junior in the 1,500 meters.
When asked Saturday shortly after her final race what she wanted her legacy to be, she replied, "I hope people remember that I was versatile and that I was driven to do my very best every time I raced."
Let the arguing begin.
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