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Promising Lobos Look To Build On 2003 Success
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  01/08/2004
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Jan. 8, 2004

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SEASON REVIEW

The 2003 season provided glimpses of a bright future for the University of New Mexico men's and women's cross country teams. Head coach Matt Henry's teams combined to win three meets this year, while senior Sarah Gonzales became the first UNM woman to earn all-conference honors in seven years. Despite fielding two very young squads, the New Mexico men and women were competitive in every meet and proved that they will be a force to be reckoned with in 2004.

2003 also saw 10 first-year runners compete in their first collegiate cross country season, including six true freshmen. Overall, 15 letterwinners should return next fall to what should be two highly talented and experienced men's and women's squads. The men's team will get a tremendous boost with the scheduled return of all-MWC runners Cameron Clarke, Matt Gonzales and Ben Ortega who led UNM to a No. 27 national ranking in 2002 before redshirting last fall. An outstanding group of prep runners, including New Mexico 5A boy's state champion Shadrack Kiptoo, should make Henry's Lobos a team to watch in 2004.

SAVING THE BEST FOR LAST

Senior Sarah Gonzales turned in the finest season of her storybook cross country career in 2003. Gonzales led the Lobos in the final four meets of the year and became the first UNM woman to earn all-Mountain West Conference honors. A four-year walk-on, Gonzales came to UNM after a solid, but unspectacular career at Cibola High School in Albuquerque. She steadily worked her way into the top-7, then top-5 and finally established herself as the team's top runner last year.

After a bit of a slow start to the 2004 season, Gonzales finished 12th at the pre-MWC Championships, then won the Canyon West Classic to lead the UNM women to their first team victory in five years. Two weeks later, she made the most of a unique opportunity when the MWC Championship meet was moved to Albuquerque.

Competing at home in front of family and friends for the final time, Gonzales earned first team all-MWC honors with a seventh place finish, the best by a UNM woman at a conference meet since 1992. She also completed the 6K course in a personal-best time of 22:03, the fastest in Matt Henry's four-year tenure. Her stellar season was capped by a 30th place finish at the NCAA Mountain Region Championship meet, 44 spots above her 2002 finish.

FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

Sean Flaherty will return in 2004 to bolster what will be a highly talented, veteran New Mexico men's team next fall. The results of the 2000 Lobo Invitational listed Flaherty as the eighth finishing runner for UNM in what was his only official appearance of the year. According to head coach Matt Henry, however, Flaherty redshirted the 2000 season and was incorrectly listed on the final results. Since he never competed for UNM as a true freshman, Flaherty, a three-year letterwinner, will return next fall as a fifth-year senior.

The Albuquerque native enjoyed the best season of his career, leading the Lobo men in all six meets during the fall and recording a pair of second place finishes. Flaherty also placed 18th at the MWC Championships, four spots shy of earning all-MWC honors.

NEW MEXICO QUICK HITS

* The Lobo men were a tight group in 2003, with the scoring runners finishing less than a 1:30 apart in every meet, including three races with a pack spread of less than a minute...the scoring five had a season-best pack spread of 19 seconds in the Lobos' pre-conference championship victory...UNM had a sub-minute pack spread just twice in six meets in 2002...senior Leighton Katsuda and junior Nate Clem combined to score in nine meets this fall after failing to score in any meets in '02...true freshmen Steven Martinez and Juan Ortega each scored four times this fall...sophomore Brandon Vigil was the team's No. 2 or 3 runner in four of six meets after cracking the top five twice last season...six first year runners made their collegiate debuts this fall, including true freshmen Chris Bratton, Michael Deason, Steven Martinez and Juan Ortega...UNM will lose just two seniors, Leighton Katsuda and Chris Rogers, from the 2003 squad.

* Senior Sarah Gonzales paced the women's team in the final four meets of the season, including her second career victory at the Canyon West Classic...three different women led the squad in the first three races of the year...with her seventh place finish at the MWC Championship meet Gonzales became the first Lobo woman to earn all-conference honors since Tangi Galloway finished 14th to garner second team honors at the 1996 Western Athletic Conference Championships...Gonzales is the first Lobo to garner first team honors since current UNM assistant Kelly Dix finished third at the 1992 WAC Championships...due to injuries, talented junior Jacquelyne Gallegos (3) and promising sophomore Karina Hill-Hurtado (0) finished a combined three races this fall...Gallegos, whose 2002 season was ended by a car accident two races into her sophomore year, placed fifth at the Mountain Region Championships on Nov. 16, scoring for the first time since Sept. 14, 2002...true freshman Riann Lucy ran no lower than fourth on the team in all six meets...fellow freshman Myrriah Gomez and first year senior Brooke Gosling, a member of the UNM Nordic ski team, scored in a combined five meets.

LOBOS' SEASON FINALE

RIVERSIDE, Utah -- The University of New Mexico men's and women's cross country teams wrapped up the 2003 season with identical 13th place finishes at the NCAA Mountain Region Championships, hosted by Weber State University, on Nov. 15 at the Riverside Golf Course. Senior Sarah Gonzales led all Lobo runners by placing 30th in the 114-person field, while junior Sean Flaherty finished 48th to pace the men.

Gonzales improved 44 spots from her 2002 performance to notch her best finish in four carer Mountain Region Championship meets. The all-MWC runner completed the 6,000-meter course in a time of 22:11 in her final collegiate cross country competition. Sophomores Janice Tosa (22:47) and Timmie Murphy (23:26) finished 46th and 69th, respectively, while true freshman Riann Lucy was 88th with a time of 23:52. Junior Jacquelyne Gallegos turned in her best performance of the year, in her fourth meet since returning from a broken back and pelvis suffered last fall. Gallegos placed 95th (24:12) to score for the first time this season.

The UNM women improved by one place from a year ago, finishing with 317 points, between Mountain West Conference rivals Wyoming (12th - 303) and Air Force (14th - 329). The BYU women won the team title with 34 points, 33 ahead of runner-up Colorado, as junior Michaela Mannova won her second straight individual crown.

Flaherty led the Lobo men for the sixth consecutive meet, clocking a time of 32:36 over the 10,000-meter course. True freshman Stephen Martinez had a solid performance, running second on the team (58th overall) with a time of 33:05, while sophomore Brandon Vigil was third on the team (63rd) with a time of 33:18. True freshman Juan Ortega (33:55) and senior Leighton Katsuda (34:01) were 78th and 79th, respectively, to cap the UNM scoring, while senior Chris Rogers was 86th in his career finale.

Colorado held off Northern Arizona for the team title, while MWC teams Air Force, BYU and Colorado State finished 3-4-5 overall. Sophomore Dathan Ritzenhein (30:22) edged MWC Champion Kip Kangogo (30:47) of BYU by 25 seconds to win the individual crown.

HAIL TO THE VICTORS

In the five years prior to Matt Henry's arrival as head cross country coach at New Mexico, the Lobo men's team had notched just one meet victory. However, since Henry took control of the program in 2000, the men have captured eight team titles, including two in 2003.

Last fall the men of New Mexico opened the season undefeated through three meets (UNM did not field a full team in its fourth meet, the Cowboy Jamboree) before finishing 17th at the Pre-National Invitational. After opening with another dominating win at the Lori Fitzgerald, UNM followed with a victory over a 12-team field in their home-opener, the UNM Lobo Invitational, then notched an impressive first place finish ahead of 29 teams at the 29th annual Stanford Invitational.

This year, the Lobo men won back-to-back mid-season races. UNM defeated Wyoming and Utah in a pre-conference triangular meet in San Diego, then defeated 11 squads at the Canyon West Classic in Tempe, Ariz. two weeks later. The Lobos scored an average of 28.5 points in their two wins.

The Lobo women also got into the act in 2003, earning their first team title under Henry at the Canyon West Cross Country Classic on Oct. 18. New Mexico scored a season-low 31 points and ran with a season-low pack spread of 55 seconds to pick up its first win since the 1998 season-opener at UTEP.

THEY'LL BE BACK

Head coach Matt Henry faced one of his biggest challenges this year after opting to redshirt four team leaders in seniors Matt Gonzales (Santa Fe, N.M.), Nick Martinez (Pojoaque, N.M.), Ben Ortega (Taos, N.M.) and junior Cameron Clarke (Albuquerque, N.M.) this fall.

After enduring a six-month indoor and outdoor track season, capped by his All-America performance in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, Henry said he decided to let Gonzales take some well-deserved time off from competition. A two-time cross country All-American and all-MWC performer, Gonzales also took some personal time off this summer to spend with his family after the passing of his father.

Ortega, meanwhile, was an all-MWC honoree and NCAA Championship competitor in 2001, but was slowed considerably by leg injuries after a strong start to the 2002 season. Nagging injuries continued to hamper Ortega's training over the summer and eventually made the redshirt decision a logical choice.

Since arriving at UNM with Henry in 2000, Martinez has been a fixture among the Lobos' top-five. After competing in six meets last fall, followed by a long indoor/outdoor track season, Henry said he thought Martinez would benefit from sitting out the 2003 campaign to refresh himself on and off the cross country course.

After claiming first team all-MWC honors in 2002, Clarke appears to have a bright future ahead of him. A standout at Sandia High School, the 5-11 Clarke picked up his first career win at the UNM Lobo Invitational last year, then scorched the field at the elite Stanford Invitational for his second victory in the following meet. Injuries forced Clarke out of the Pre-National Invitational and hampered him in the Mountain Region meet, but Henry said he expects him to make a strong return for what could be a special 2004 season.

"We redshirted four very solid runners, but this gave some of our younger runners an opportunity to step up, run and grow this year," said Henry. "I think next season we'll be more experienced, stronger and hopefully healthier because of this."

ROOKIE RUNNERS

Several fresh faces on the New Mexico men's and women's cross country teams gained valuable experience this fall. Ten runners made their collegiate debuts, including six true freshmen. In addition, four runners on the men's and women's sides completed their second year of collegiate competition.

Head coach Matt Henry said he hopes this core of young runners will provide a valuable foundation for the future of the program. On the men's side, the eight first and second-year runners should give the team tremendous depth when redshirting veterans Cameron Clarke, Matt Gonzales, Nick Martinez and Ben Ortega return to action.

HOMEGROWN LOBOS

University of New Mexico head coach Matt Henry has built the UNM program by using his greatest natural resource: New Mexico high school distance runners. Of the 31 runners on the 2003 roster, all but two were products of New Mexico high schools. All three of the Lobos' 2001 NCAA competitors (All-American Matt Gonzales, Ben Ortega, Jacquelyne Gallegos), as well as 2002 first team all-MWC honoree Cameron Clarke, are from the Land of Enchantment.

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