Four Track & Field Standouts Primed for Hometown NCAA Championships
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  03/11/2014

2014 NCAA Division I Men’s and Women’s Track and Field Championships — Albuquerque, N.M.

When: Friday-Saturday, March 14-15, 2014
Where: Albuquerque Convention Center in Albuquerque, N.M.
Live Results: FlashResults.com

The saying goes that there is no place like home. The Lobos hope that proves to be true.

In Albuquerque, four University of New Mexico track and field athletes are aiming high against the nation’s best at the 2014 NCAA Division I Men's and Women's Indoor Track and Field Championships Friday and Saturday.

Lobos Luke Caldwell (5,000-meter run), Adam Bitchell (5000),Elmar Engholm (mile) and Kendall Spencer (long jump) are looking to score when they compete at their home facility, the Albuquerque Convention Center, for the UNM- and Albuquerque-hosted national championships.

“I’d like to get the people that are in the meet in position to score,” UNM head coach Joe Franklin said. “That’s the goal: can you score at the national championships, can you be top eight?”

All four Lobos competing are capable of scoring this weekend, and have the experience — both at the national championships and at their home facility — to produce the requisite top-eight finish.

They will also have the added benefit of competing on their home track.

“It’s a huge deal whenever you have a chance to run at home on your home track,” Franklin said. “… There’s going to 1000 people that know you who you are, and that’s a positive.”

With a hometown crowd and home-field (and home-track) advantage, the Lobos are in position to continue their trend of scoring at the national championship, which includes a tie for eighth place in 2010 and a tie for 15th in 2012. UNM tied for 49th last year.

L. Caldwell  
Luke Caldwell  

Over the last five seasons, the New Mexico men have scored at each NCAA Indoor Championship, a streak only bested by a six-year stretch from 1975-80.

But the Lobos can tie that run this year behind their four top-notch athletes.

Caldwell, a three-time track and field All-American, is one athlete with designs on a fourth scoring effort at this year’s championships.

The senior from Betchworth, England, was eighth in the 5,000 at the 2013 NCAA Indoor Championships in Arkansas, and could better that this time on his home track.

He enters the competition with a season-best time of 13 minutes, 42.50 seconds, which led the Mountain West in 2014 and ranks sixth in the nation.

“I think [the key is] just being in a position where [he] can challenge,” Franklin said of Caldwell. “He’s been pretty conservative at the last couple of championships.”

Nonetheless, he’s a definite threat to score and owns a personal record of 13:40.39 that doubles as the New Mexico and Mountain West record over 5,000 meters.

Bitchell will also competing in the 5000 Friday night alongside his teammate.

The Aberystwyth, Wales, native carries a personal-record clocking of 13:44.70 into the championships, which is third all-time in school history and ranks fourth all-time in MW history.

He is the No. 14 seed in the championships, and has performed strongly in past cross country seasons and during this season in track, where he placed top-four in the mile, 3,000 and 5,000 at the MW Indoor Championships two weeks ago.

“I think Adam can be right with Luke,” Franklin said.

Caldwell and Bitchell just the second pair of teammates in school history to qualify to the NCAA Indoor Championships in the 5000, joining Rory Fraser and Chris Barnicle in 2010.

The top seed in the field is Wisconsin’s Reed Connor (seed mark of 13:37.42), but Franklin points to Oregon freshman Edward Cheserek (13:40.51) and Arizona senior Lawi Lalang (13:41.58) as the pair to beat.

Also getting in on the action on the track is Engholm, one of just three athletes in UNM history to run a sub-four-minute mile.

The Stockholm product holds a personal-record time of 3:58.90 in the mile, making him the second fastest miler in UNM history behind two-time NCAA mile champion Lee Emanuel.

His mark ranks 12th in the field and led the MW in 2014.

“Elmar is very fit,” Franklin said. “He has not had a hiccup the last five weeks. … I think him making the final is realistic and that’s the goal.”

Unlike his teammates, Engholm set his personal record in Albuquerque on the same track on which he will be racing Friday. He registered that time at the Don Kirby Elite Invitational on Feb. 15, which gives him the fifth-best time in the mile by a collegian in Albuquerque Convention Center history.

Arizona’s Lalang has the top seed time of 3:52.88.

The final Lobo competing, Spencer, is aiming to recapture his title as NCAA Champion.

The 2012 NCAA Champion in the indoor long jump, Spencer is advancing to his third-straight national championship indoors, an unprecedented feat in New Mexico history.

The San Mateo, Calif., senior enters with a season-best mark of 25 feet, 9 ¼ inches in the long jump, achieved when he won his third consecutive MW title in the long jump at the MW Championships.

His personal record, which is also the school record, is 26-3 ½.  

“He’s in a very good spot right now and he’s having a lot of fun,” Franklin said.

Despite not registering a mark at last year’s championships, Spencer has been more consistent lately, including a sixth-place showing at the USA Indoor Track & Field Championships last month.

“This year is very similar to the year he won [the NCAA championship],” Franklin said. “If you look at his jumps early in the year, they were all similar to those jumps when he won. His jump at the conference meet was similar to what he did at the conference meet the year he won.”

His mark ranks seventh in the field, with Rutgers’ Corey Crawford leading the field (26-11 ¾).

With the four athletes accepting bids for the NCAAs, the Lobos are sending four or more athletes to the indoor championships for the sixth consecutive year, extending the longest streak in program history. The indoor high is eight athletes, reached in 1978 and 2009.

The Lobos' four entrants are also significant in relative to the rest of the Mountain West. Seven male athletes from MW institutions are competing at the NCAAs, one each from Air Force, Colorado State and Wyoming.

The meet starts Friday at 10 a.m. with the beginning of the heptathlon and continues Saturday at 11 a.m. with the conclusion of the heptathlon.

The Lobos will compete on Friday at 6 p.m. MT with the long jump and the semifinals of the mile and at 8:25 p.m. MT with the 5000.

Live results will be available on RecordTiming.com and the meet will be streamed live on ESPN3 on March 14 starting at 5:55 p.m. MT and March 15 starting at 5:50 p.m. MT. A tape delay of the championship will air Saturday, March 22, starting at 4:30 p.m. MT on ESPNU.