Albuquerque, UNM Set To Host MWC Indoor Championships For First Time
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  02/21/2006
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Feb. 21, 2006

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For the first time in the seven-year history of the Mountain West Conference, the MWC Men's and Women's Indoor Track & Field Championships have a new home at the world-class indoor facility inside the Albuquerque Convention Center. The MWC Championship meet, which will be held Thursday - Saturday in the heart of downtown Albuquerque, is the first indoor conference track meet in the state of New Mexico since 1987. The host University of New Mexico Lobos welcome all nine MWC teams, including first-year member TCU, to America's best new indoor track and field venue - the Albuquerque Convention Center.

The action begins at 10:30 on Thursday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. on Friday. Single session tickets will be available at the door on Friday and Saturday - $4 for adults and $2 for children (high school and under). Thursday's events are free.

The MWC Championships move to the Duke City after six years at the U.S. Air Force Academy's Cadet Field House in Colorado Springs, Colo. Air Force also hosted the Western Athletic Conference Indoor Championships for 12 straight years before the MWC was formed. New Mexico hosted the WAC Indoor Championship meet at Tingley Coliseum on the New Mexico State Fairgrounds six times between 1974-87.


Meet Information/Results: Live meet results will be available online at the Mountain West Conference's official website: www.themwc.com. The complete results packet will be available immediately following the meet at www.themwc.com and www.golobos.com.

Schedule: The meet begins on Thursday with the women's pentathlon (5 events) and first four events of the men's heptathlon. Thursday's events are scheduled to run between 10:30 a.m. and approximately 4:05 p.m. (MST).

Friday's schedule opens at 10 a.m. with the final three events of the men's heptathlon. The day will feature finals for the men's and women's weight throw, long jump, 5,000m run and distance medley, the women's pole vault and men's high jump. Prelims for the 60, 60 hurdles, 200, 400, 800 and mile will also be held on Friday. The day's events are scheduled to conclude at approximately 5:45 p.m.

The third and final day of competition gets underway at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday. Finals for the women's high jump, men's pole vault, men's and women's triple jump and shot put, and all remaining track events (60, 60 hurdles, 200, 400, 800, mile, 3,000, 4x400 relay) will be held. The meet is expected to conclude around 4 p.m.

Teams Competing (9): Air Force, BYU, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State (women only), TCU, UNLV (women only), Utah (women only), Wyoming.

Both the TCU (17th) and BYU (T19th) men's teams are nationally ranked in the most recent list by Trackwire.com.

Top Individuals: Ten MWC athletes and one relay team are ranked in the latest Trackwire.com NCAA Championship projections. The marquee event will be the men's pole vault which features three ranked competitors. BYU senior Robison Pratt, the defending NCAA Outdoor and MWC Indoor Champion, is the nation's top-ranked vaulter, while New Mexico has a pair of ranked competitors in senior Derek Mackel (No. 7) and junior Robert Caldwell (No. 12). The TCU men also have two ranked individuals in No. 2 800-meter man, Jackson Langat, and the No. 4 400m runner, Lewis Banda. Langat and Banda also help lead the Flyin' Frogs' 4x400m relay team, which is ranked ninth in the country.

The women's field features three ranked athletes in the running events in UNLV sophomore Ashley Owens (No. 5 - 60m), Virgil Hodge (No. 10 - 200m) of TCU and BYU's Chelsea McKell (No. 11 - 5,000m). San Diego State senior Erin Asay is the nation's No. 4 pole vaulter, while BYU junior Kamila Rywelska is 11th in the triple jump.


As the historic 2006 schedule comes to an end with the MWC Championship meet, the Albuquerque Convention Center has established a reputation as the best new venue indoor track and field facility in America. Thirteen top-25 men's and women's teams, 56 nationally ranked athletes and seven of the nation's top 4x400m relay teams have competed in Albuquerque this winter. Twelve NCAA automatic qualifying marks and 71 provisional marks have been recorded in the Convention Center this year, including three of the current top marks in the country. Texas' Trey Hardee recorded one of the three, as he set a collegiate record of 6,208 points in the heptathlon during the Zia Classic Multis competition (Jan. 26-27). In addition, three of the current best marks in NCAA Division II have been established in Albuquerque by visiting Abilene Christian and Adams State.


Although it remains a traditional outdoor-oriented program, New Mexico has become more of an indoor threat each year under sixth-year head coach Matt Henry and his staff. The UNM women have scored at least 49 points three of Henry's first five seasons after surpassing the 49-point mark just once in the previous 10 years. In Henry's first year, the women scored a program-best 57 points and matched their best all-time indoor finish by taking fourth at the 2001 MWC Championships. Five of the women's seven all-time indoor conference event titles have come in the Henry era as well, including a program-best three victories in 2003. Current assistant coach Keren Bentzur was the most decorated Lobo at the MWC Indoor Championships, earning the meet High Point Award with her 30-point performance as a senior in 2003.

The Lobo men, meanwhile, have been steadily returning to the high levels of performance they were accustomed to throughout the 1970s and `80s. New Mexico has averaged 49.5 points under Henry in its last five MWC indoor meets, including a score of 67 last year - the team's highest in 15 years. UNM scored just an average of just 12 points per meet prior to Henry's arrival from 1992-2000. The Lobos have also won 3 event titles at the past two MWC Indoor Championship meets after enduring a 13-year title drought between 1991-2003. Overall, the team has captured 53 event titles since 1970 with Henry himself helping UNM win back-to-back Western Athletic Conference 2-mile relay titles and a mile relay crown from 1972-74.


COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - The New Mexico men enjoyed their best scoring output in 15 years at the Mountain West Conference Indoor Championships, finishing fifth with 67 points, just 11 points shy of fourth place Wyoming. The Lobo women finished with 31 points, an eight-point improvement on their 2004 score, but dropped one spot from the previous year, placing seventh overall.

The two squads combined to earn all-MWC honors in eight events, including conference titles in the 3,000 and 5,000 by Northern New Mexico distance stars Matt Gonzales and Ben Ortega. Four years after winning his first league title as a true freshman, Ortega found himself standing atop the medals podium once again after running a career-best and then-school record time of 14:06.95 (altitude adjusted) en route to an upset victory in the 5,000. Gonzales, meanwhile, won his first gold medal at the MWC Indoor meet with an altitude adjusted time of 8:11.96 in the 3,000. Cameron Clarke (800m), Derek Mackel (pole vault), Whitney Johnson (pole vault), Amanda Barnes (weight throw and shot put) and the men's distance medley relay team of Gonzales, Clarke, Randle McCain and Shadrack Kiptoo-Biwott, which ran a school record (altitude adjusted) time of 9:46.26, also earned all-MWC honors for the Lobos in 2005.


For the first time in program history New Mexico has two athletes ranked nationally during the indoor season by Trackwire.com. Both Derek Mackel (7th) and Robert Caldwell (12th) are listed among the top-12 in the country in the men's pole vault, marking the first time during any season that two Lobos have been ranked in the same event. New Mexico is the only school with two nationally ranked vaulters.

Mackel (Albuquerque Sandia HS) opened at No. 4 in the first regular season rankings of the season (Jan. 23) and has been among the top-12 for five weeks. This is his first year among the top-12 indoors after climbing as high as No. 7 during the spring of `05. Caldwell (Socorro, N.M.), meanwhile, cracked the national rankings last week for the first time in his career on Feb. 13.

The Trackwire rankings are based upon the projected finish in each event at the 2006 NCAA Indoor Championship meet, March 10-11 in Fayetteville, Ark.

1. Robbie Pratt (BYU)
2. Tommy Skipper (Oregon)
3. Brian Mondschein (Virginia Tech)
4. John Russell (Akron)
5. Keith Highman (Pittsburgh)
6. Gabe Baldwin (Nebraska)
7. Derek Mackel (New Mexico)
8. Andre Poljanec (Northern Iowa)
9. Mitch Greeley (Clemson)
10. Grame Hoste (Stanford)
11. Bobby Most (Texas Tech)
12. Robert Caldwell (New Mexico)


Sixth-year assistant coach Scott Steffan has established one of the premier men's and women's pole vaulting programs in the nation at New Mexico. A former teammate of three-time All-American and school record holder Simon Arkell, Steffan rebuilt the vault crew from the ground up after returning to Albuquerque. Under his watch, New Mexico pole vaulters have earned all-MWC honors five times since 2003 and have had at least three athletes qualify for the NCAA Regional meet each of the past three years. Since 2002, UNM has boasted seven 16-foot vaulters on the men's side, including three that have cleared 17 feet. Four women have surpassed the 12 foot mark, including two over 13 feet. Four have also been nationally ranked in the event by Trackwire.com

Derek Mackel is ranked seventh in the country by Trackwire.com

Led by seventh-ranked Derek Mackel and No. 12 Robert Caldwell, the Lobo vaulters have enjoyed perhaps their best season in 2006. Mackel (17-11.00), Caldwell (17-03.00) and sophomore Whitney Johnson (12-11.50) have all surpassed the NCAA provisional qualifying standard, competing in the friendly confines of the Albuquerque Convention Center. Meanwhile, senior Zach Bingham (16-00.00), sophomore Zach Graham (16-02.75), junior Nicole Huyge (11-06.50) and junior Stefany Setliff (11-06.00), a first-year vaulter, have all recorded their career bests this winter.

For more about the Lobos' vaunted vaulters, check out the group's website, dedicated to pole vaulting in New Mexico: www.nmpv.com


After enjoying a breakthrough year in 2005, senior Derek Mackel has established himself as one of the best pole vaulters in America this winter. Currently ranked No. 7 in the event by Trackwire.com, Mackel has cleared 17 feet in each of his four meets this year, including a lifetime best of 17-11.00 to tie top-ranked Robison Pratt of BYU at the Modrall Sperling Lobo Invitational (Jan. 21). The Albuquerque Sandia product owns the second-best mark in UNM history and is No. 9 on the NCAA qualifying list. On Jan. 24 he became the second Lobo ever and first since 2002 to be named Mountain West Conference Men's Indoor Track & Field Athlete of the Week.

The fifth-year senior has improved by more than five feet in the pole vault since joining the program as an unrecruited walk-on in 2001-02 and will likely become the first UNM men's vaulter to compete at the NCAA Championships since All-American Simon Arkell in 1991. Mackel also has his sights fixed on Arkell's 15-year-old indoor record of 18-01.50. He has attempted the height twice this season, just missing on Jan. 28 en route to a victory in the New Mexico Invitational.


The annual all-Mountain West Conference team is comprised of the top-3 finishers in each event at the MWC Championships meet. Since Matt Henry took over the track & field program in 2001, UNM athletes have earned all-MWC honors 34 times indoors. The following are the athletes currently in top contention for indoor all-conference honors, ranking among the league's top-5 entering this week's conference championship meet:

Fr. Khristina Curtis - High Jump (T5th - 5-06.00), Fr. Sandy Fortner - Pentathlon (5th - 3,403 pts.), So. Whitney Johnson - Pole Vault (3rd - 12-11.50), RS-Fr. Leslie Luna - 3,000 (5th - 9:52.63), Sr. Timmie Murphy - 3,000 (4th - 9:46.99), RS-Fr. Tiyana Peters - High Jump (1st - 5-08.00), Fr. Hagit Salomon - Triple Jump (4th - 39-01.00).

Jr. Robert Caldwell - Pole Vault (3rd - 17-03.00), Sr. Dan Feltman - Heptathlon (4,898 pts. - 5th), RS-Fr. Joseph Garcia - 5,000m (4th - 15:21.86), Jr. Jeremy Johnson - 3,000 (4th - 8:17.20), Sr. Derek Mackel - Pole Vault (2nd - 17-11.00), Fr. Stuart St. Louis - High Jump (4th - 6-09.50), 4x400m Relay Team (4th - 3:16.41), Distance Medley Relay Team (2nd - 10:14.02).


Championship track and field programs are not built overnight. They are constructed gradually, built upon a strong foundation of pride, tradition and a commitment to excellence. The University of New Mexico track and field program has built its legacy with the same championship formula.

Since 1930, New Mexico athletes have earned All-America honors 69 times, won 11 NCAA Championship events and claimed 197 conference events. Perhaps the most exceptional group of athletes ever to compete in any sport at UNM were on legendary coach Hugh Hackett's track and field teams of the 1960s.

A large group of Lobo legends from that era, including coach Hackett and former national champions Adolph Plummer and Art Baxter, reunited in Albuquerque on Jan. 20 for a memorable evening spent sharing memories and reaffirming a commitment to New Mexico track and field excellence. That night, reunion organizer Rene Matison, a two-time All-American at UNM, announced the founding of the Lobo Track and Field Alumni Club.

The Alumni Club seeks to unite all the men and women from the 1960s, `70s, `80s, `90s and even the 2000s who have been part of New Mexico's proud track and field history. Its goals include celebrating and preserving the program's proud tradition while helping current and future generations of Lobo track and field athletes establish a championship legacy of their own through facility and equipment upgrades and donations to the track and field scholarship fund.

For more information on the Lobo Track and Field Alumni Club, contact Rene Matison via email at rpmatison@msn.com.


Good timing, a proactive city government and an irresistible sale all contributed to the return of indoor track and field to the Albuquerque after nearly a 20-year absence. During the spring of 2004 Albuquerque city leaders learned of a $1 million unused and undamaged indoor track sitting in storage in Canada that could be purchased for a mere $500,000. The state-of-the-art Mondo track had originally been ordered, then later declined, for use in the Los Angeles Staples Center arena.

The track finally found a home inside the Convention Center in downtown Albuquerque and made its debut on Jan. 15, 2005 for the inaugural Albuquerque All-Comers meet. Nearly identical to the track used by the University of Arkansas at the Randal Tyson Track Center, Albuquerque's new indoor facility received rave reviews from athletes, coaches and fans. Like the Arkansas facility, which has been the site of every NCAA Indoor Championship meet since 2000, the city of Albuquerque now has an indoor track that will be a destination for some of the nation's premier events.

The Mondo track includes a 200-meter, 60-degree banked oval (six 36-inch lanes). The straight is a panel system Mondo surface with eight 42-inch lanes, which is also the surface for the high jump. The pole vault, long jump and triple jump are on raised runways with Mondo surfacing. The throwing ring is a wood surface.

In the 1960s and `70s Albuquerque was one of the nation's elite indoor track and field locations, drawing top professional and collegiate talent to compete in front of the large crowds at the annual Jaycee meets. The 1966 AAU Indoor Nationals (now known as the USA Indoor Track & Field Championships) drew a two-day total of nearly 20,000 fans to Tingley Coliseum and was featured on the March 14 cover of Sports Illustrated. Albuquerque officials were able to lure the meet away from its regular home at Madison Square Garden in New York City that year. In the new Albuquerque Convention Center facility, city leaders and track and field enthusiasts have a reason to stand up and cheer once again.


The Albuquerque Convention Center has added free, wireless internet "Hot Zones". These "Hot Zones" are located in the Center's public lobby areas and allow attendees with wireless enabled devices to access the internet and internet based email at no charge. Some laptop computers may be able access the wireless signal from their seat trackside in the arena. Those who wish to access the internet in the Convention Center should connect to the wireless signal labeled Showtel. There is no password or username needed.


Get to know more about the 2006 Lobos throughout the indoor/outdoor seasons as UNM track and field trainer Queenie Soriano sits down with selected athletes for a series of Q & A interviews, exclusively on www.GoLobos.com. Queenie's questions will offer a closer look at the life of a Lobo on and off the track.

This week Queenie sat down with UNM rookies Kelly and Sandy Fortner, twin sisters from the little town of Fort Sumner, N.M. who are looking to make a big mark on Lobo track and field.