Orediggers Athletics have their sights set on the Frontier Championship | Frontier Conference


BUTTE — This is only the second year for the Montana Tech track team, but the Orediggers are already working to be first in their field.

The spring outdoor season began Saturday at the Icebreaker Open in Billings, when Montana Tech took part in numerous on-court events for the first time in program history.

The women’s team finished second and the men finished fourth in a competition that included programs from the NAIA’s Frontier Conference and NCAA Division II. Two athletes from the women’s side — Jenna Jordan and Naiya Beaudin — qualified for the national championships, and all four stints were claimed by the Orediggers.

It’s been a strong start to the season that could see the Orediggers as dark horse contenders for the Frontier Conference crown.

In their first trip to the Frontier Conference Championships on April 29-30, 2021, at Carroll College last season, the Orediggers women’s team was represented in only four of the 20 events – the 800, 1500, 5000 and the 400 hurdles. The men have only competed in four of their 21 possible events – the 800, 1500, 5000 and 10,000.

Head coach Zach Kughn said the Orediggers are equipped to change that this year with an expanded roster that includes plenty of athletes who will fill those gaps by competing in throws, jumps, sprints and the 4×100 relay, giving Tech a chance at a conference. Crown.

“The outdoor conference meeting is an important focus of the program,” Kughn said. “Overall, as a team, that’s what we focus on.”

That may seem like a lofty goal for a fledgling program, but despite inexperience compared to their opponents, the Orediggers don’t shy away from the competition.

“We’re not making excuses for anything,” Kughn said. “We’re not on long-term development or anything like that. We just want to focus on what our individuals can do.”

The expansive but young roster is made up of 46 athletes, 24 men and 22 women. Only two seniors compete for the Orediggers, both on the women’s side – three-time national champion Becca Richtman, who is in her fifth and final year of eligibility, and Montana State transfer Alisa Hashley. The only upperclass member of the men’s team is redshirt junior Aidan Vlasaty. All three members of the upper Tech class are distance runners.

Every pitcher, jumper and sprinter is a freshman – 20 for men and 18 for women. The five sophomores are listed as distance or middle-distance runners.

“We certainly don’t view it internally as a disadvantage,” Kughn said of his squad’s youth. “It’s like that. Everyone knew when they were signed that it was a new team. It’s exciting to be part of a new team.”

That’s part of what drew freshman sprinter and long jumper Drake Schlachter to the Orediggers program.

“Honestly, I love it, because people don’t expect much from the program,” Schlachter said of his participation in Tech’s second recruiting class. “When it comes to the quality of our performance, especially when we go to bigger competitions, they don’t expect us to do as well.

“(We) just let people know that (Tech) athletics, our program, is actually pretty good.”

Schlachter, a native of Penn Valley, Calif., didn’t initially consider himself a college athlete. As a member of Nevada Junior High School’s football and basketball teams, Schlachter didn’t join the track team until his sophomore year, and nearly his entire junior season was wiped out by COVID.

Luckily for Coach Kughn and the Orediggers track team, Schlachter has an uncle who lives in Whitehall, which made a visit to Tech a handy addition to a Northern California getaway.

“I wanted to get out a bit, and it seemed like a nice school for academics,” Schlachter said. “And then I realized they were starting a track program, and then I got a little more interested. I was like, ‘Hey, maybe this could be my thing.’

Although Schlachter never competed in the long jump until his senior year of high school, Kughn said he “looks really good” in the event so far.

“I’ve only competed in eight long jump competitions in my life,” Schlachter said. “I guess you could say I’m a natural.”

His natural ability hasn’t stopped him from gaining the technical training and experience to close the gap between him and his competitors as he eyes a 23-foot jump this season.

“Every competition, every practice we do, I’m still learning because it’s still new to me,” he said. “I just wanted to do PR (set a personal best) since high school, but I think I’d like to break 23 feet. It’s just a goal I’ve had since the start of the season.”

In Schlachter’s mind, reaching 23 feet would put him firmly in the next group of jumpers.

“You are able to compete with people at a higher level,” he said. “I admired the people who hit it for so long.”

Alongside Tech jumpers is the addition of launchers. While shot putters compete in the winter, discus and javelin throwers use the indoor season to train for the spring.

“Throws are the biggest change from inside to outside,” Kughn said. “And we have some good javelin throwers and discus throwers, so that’s something we’ve been waiting for since we signed them a year ago.”

Thompson Falls freshman Cody Burk now has his chance to show off his versatility as a pitcher.

“Burk will be very good at shooting, discus and javelin,” Kughn said. “We only see him doing the inside shot, but I think he’ll do well at all of those.”

On the women’s side, there’s already plenty of momentum behind sprinter Natylia Jacobson and distance runner Hailey Nielson, who both competed at the NAIA Indoor Track and Field Championships in Brookings, South Dakota, which completed May 5.

Nielson, a Butte High graduate, ran the 3,000m in 10:22.03, placing 16th in the preliminaries. Richtman won the event with a time of 9:58.87 in the final.

Kughn said Richtman gets all the attention, but Nielson’s development and contributions shouldn’t be overlooked.

“Once you look at the national roster, that’s where you start to see how good Hailey is,” Kughn said.

Jacobson, of Dillon, ran a 7.72 in the 60 meters, good for 17th in the preliminaries, and positioning her to be one of the best runners in the 100 and 200 meters this season, according to Kughn.

Kughn said participating in national championships as a rookie is not only an indication of ability, but also prepares athletes for success at future conferences and national meets.

“You want to do your best right now, but when you gain that experience, you set yourself up to do well in national competitions later,” Kughn said. “The experience helps them cope with the expectations that come with qualifying for national championships.”

Qualifying for nationals, even without making it to the finals, is a major achievement, especially for freshman athletes, many of whom are navigating this level of pressure for the first time.

“It’s a big deal,” Kughn said of Nationals. “It’s on social media, newspapers. It all adds to the pressure of an athlete.

“Most people who qualify for nationals don’t do very well. There are only eight All-Americans, only one winner. It’s hard to look good, and that adds pressure.”

Jordan secured a place at the national championships with a javelin throw of 40.85 meters in second place. Beaudin won the triple jump with a distance of 37 feet and 10.75 inches. She also won the long jump with a personal best 17-foot-2.

Richtman returns for his last hurrah in green, copper and silver, coming off two national titles at Brookings and a third from last year’s outdoor national meet in the steeplechase.

While his individual goals remain destined for the national meet — a national title with a championship-record 10:12 in the steeplechase, in particular — Richtman wants to see how far this Orediggers side can go in conference before moving on. reins of leadership to the next class.

“I think we have a good opportunity to try and win,” Richtman said. “But every athlete on the team would have to have their best day and really give it their all.

“I think it’s a really cool opportunity to come together and rally.”

The rally started from the moment the athletes were signed and continues through the daily routine of the program.

“We want everyone to be invested in every team meeting,” Kughn said. “We have a countdown, we tell them how many days are left until the conference meets.”

On Monday, there are just 39 days until the first day of the Frontier Conference Championship game on April 29 in Helena.

“Everyone was drafted with the idea that they could score in the conference game,” Kughn said. “Everyone should feel valued and have a purpose in that goal.”

Schlachter is on board.

“It’s an individual sport,” he said. “But at the same time, we all need to come together at the conference meet and compete so that our school can win.”


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