BOZEMAN, Mont. -- The Weber State track and field teams hope to improve on a pair of fifth-place finishes from a year ago when they compete in the 49th Big Sky Conference outdoor track and field championships today through Saturday at Montana State's track.
The women's heptathlon and men's decathlon began Wednesday and will conclude this afternoone. Action resumes in earnest on Friday afternoon with trials and a few events, followed by a full slate on Saturday.
Weber State's women have won the title five times with 10 runner-up finishes.
Coach Jim Blaisdell takes a strong team into this week's meet. His team has 24 athletes qualified in 41 events. WSU was picked to finish second in the coaches preseason poll behind Sacramento State, but it was a close vote.
"We are really strong in the middle and long distances, Sac State is really strong in the sprints and jumps," said Blaisdell. "To win, we need a lot of third-, fourth- and fifth-place finishes. Just like the indoor meet, every point will be worth its weight in gold this week."
The Wildcats are looking to win the track triple crown.
WSU won the 2011 Big Sky women's cross country title and the 2012 Big Sky women's indoor track and field title.
"That is a rare feat for sure, but we aren't thinking about it in those terms. We are just focusing in on this week." said Blaisdell.
Sarah Callister is looking to put her name entrenched in the Big Sky record books. She is the two-time defending champion in both the 10,000 and 5,000 meter. Only one other Big Sky athlete has won three 10,000 meter titles. No one has won three straight 5,000 meter crowns in league history.
WSU comes into the meet with the league's best times in the 400 meters, where sophomore Amanda Alston has run 54.61. Amber Henry is the favorite in the 1,500 meters and 3,000 meter steeplechase. She has run 4:19.75 in the 1,500 meters and an eye-popping 9:53.94 in the steeplechase. Callister has the best times in the 5,000 meters (16:01.47) and 10,000 meters (32:51.17).
Lauren Thomas is WSU's only competitor in the heptathlon. Her 4,034 points scored is the 10th most in the conference this season.
The Wildcats have won 10 conference titles through the years, but with 20 athletes qualified in 35 events, men's coach Dan Walker is optmistice for top top-three finish.
"If all goes well, we have a chance to finish third," said Walker. "Northern Arizona is favored, but Montana State has the home-track advantage. Our goal was to get 20 athletes qualified in 30 events and we have 20 in 35 events, so I am hopeful we can make some noise this week."
In individual events, the 'Cats have the top times in the Big Sky this year in the 110-meter hurdles and 400 meter hurdles. Freshman Jonathan McUne ran 14.1 in the 110 hurdles on April 21, and senior Tyler McBee posted a time of 52.41 in the 400 meter hurdles on April 27.
"Both hurdlers have a chance to win this week," said Walker. "We will be strong again the steeplechase and both relays and I expect some strong performances in the throwing events."
The 3,000-meter steeplechase has been WSU's forte throughout the years. The Wildcats have won 21 of the 48 steeplechase races in the Big Sky Conference championship and have won the events each of the last three years.