The New Mexico men's team should be a solid, balanced unit this season with 13 newcomers blending with a strong group of veterans. UNM graduated several big guns in Mountain West Conference heptathlon champion Mark Johnson, sprinter/hurdler Chris Garofola and thrower Jason Barkemeyer, but the door is open for the next generation of Lobo stars to make their mark. New Mexico boasts one of the top distance squads in the MWC and has tremendous talent in the pole vault and decathlon as well. The UNM sprint crew has also been rejuvenated, while several top competitors return in the javelin and jumps.
SPRINTS, HURDLES, RELAYS -The sprint group should get some real help in 2005 with the return of senior Ahmed Raji (Oyo, Nigeria), who redshirted all of 2004. Raji joined the team late in the 2003 indoor season, but proved to be one of the Mountain West's fastest men outdoors, earning all-conference honors with a runner-up finish in the 200 and ranking among the league's best in the 100. While a demanding fall class schedule, limited his offseason training somewhat, the UNM coaches believe Raji will be burning up the track once again by the mid-Spring.
Sophomores Jeramie White (Hobbs, N.M.) and Randle McCain (Silver City, N.M.) also return, looking to build off of their strong debut seasons. White ripped off a stunning school record time of 6.91 in the 60-meter dash last year and ranked among the MWC's top-10 in the 100. McCain, meanwhile, was one of the team leaders in the 400 and along with White, should be a conference scoring threat this spring. Veteran junior Isaac Burgener (Santa Fe, N.M.) is back as well and could push for a berth in the MWC 400 finals.
New Mexico will also look for several fresh faces to step in and give the sprint corps a boost. Redshirt freshman Jeremy Davis (Houston, Texas) will get his first crack at collegiate competition after a year of training and could provide a lift at any distance from 100 to 400. Junior Brenton Laws (Albuquerque, N.M.), a transfer from Washington, gives the Lobos a talented, experienced presence in the short sprints, while freshmen Chris Cole (Albuquerque, N.M.), Kurt Henry (Albuquerque, N.M.), George Mullen (Artesia, N.M.) and Jarrin Solomon (Albuquerque, N.M.) will also have an opportunity to make their mark. Cole and Mullen have shown great potential in the 100 and 200, while Henry and Solomon were two of New Mexico's top 400 men last spring.
With the loss of Chris Garofola, UNM will turn to sophomore transfer Mark Lamb (Cimarron, N.M.) to provide a scoring threat in the hurdles. Lamb, who was an NAIA indoor national qualifier in the 60-meter hurdles last year for Oklahoma Baptist, should make an immediate impact in the 110-meter hurdles and contribute in the 400 hurdles as well. Junior Jon-Paul Barabe (Albuquerque, N.M.) will also help in both events, while decathletes Dan Feltman (Deming, N.M.) and Derek McDonald (Albuquerque, N.M.) give UNM two more weapons in the short hurdles.
New Mexico should return to being one of the Mountain West's elite relay teams this spring with the return of Raji and a deep, diverse group of new sprinters waiting to make their mark. Raji helped the Lobos' 4x100 and 4x400 clock NCAA regional qualifying times in 2003 and will lead both units this spring. White, Burgener and McCain all gained ample relay experience last season, while the large group of newcomers should give the UNM coaching staff solid options in both the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
MID-DISTANCE/DISTANCE -An emerging force since Matt Henry took over five years ago, New Mexico's ninth place finish at the 2004 NCAA Cross Country Championships punctuated its status as one of the finest distance running programs in the nation. This spring, Henry said he expects more of the same as the 2005 Lobos will feature their best collection of distance runners in over 20 years.
UNM boasts one of America's most promising world-class distance talents in senior Matt Gonzales (Santa Fe, N.M.), who is back for his final year in cherry and silver after earning All-America honors in cross country last fall for the third time in his career. An All-American in the 10,000 the past two years, Gonzales was the top collegiate finisher (sixth) in the 5,000 at the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials and also cruised to the Mountain West Conference outdoor title in the event. After erasing the 18-year old school record in the 5,000 last spring, Gonzales is eager to secure his legacy as the best distance runner in New Mexico history. While he will focus primarily on the 5K this season, Gonzales said that he plans to make one final attempt to rewrite the 21-year old record in the 10,000.
Fellow senior Ben Ortega (Taos, N.M.), a five-time all-MWC honoree on the track, has been one of the league's premier 5,000 and 10,000 runners for the past five years and is poised for a strong finish to his outstanding career. While nagging injuries have hampered him at times, Henry said he believes Ortega is in the best shape of his career and could make a run at a NCAA berth in either distance event.
Another pair of seniors in Nick Martinez (Pojoaque, N.M.) and Nate Clem (Albuquerque, N.M.) will also wrap up their Lobo careers this spring. Martinez is a MWC scoring threat in the 1,500 and 5,000, while Clem will look to make an impact in the middle distance events. Senior Cameron Clarke (Albuquerque, N.M.), meanwhile, will likely redshirt during the spring, but could be one of the Mountain West's top runners in the 800 and mile in his final indoor campaign.
After turning in strong cross country campaigns in 2004, sophomore Juan Ortega (Albuquerque, N.M.) and redshirt freshman Steven Martinez (Pojoaque, N.M.) should be factors as well in the distance events, while sophomore Mike Smiel (Albuquerque, N.M.) is one of the Lobos' most promising middle distance men. Junior Brandon Vigil (Taos, N.M), meanwhile, returns to competition for the first time since training all summer with his ROTC unit and could be a nice surprise in the 5K.
Fresh off his All-America performance at the national cross country meet, freshman Shadrack Kiptoo-Biwott (Eldoret, Kenya) leads a fine group of newcomers, looking to make their mark on the track. An All-American at Albuquerque's La Cueva High School, Kiptoo-Biwott owned the fastest high school two-mile time (8:45.44) in the nation last year and has been clocked at 4:02.80 in the mile. He is equally dangerous in the 5K, owning a personal best of 13:57, and could make some noise on the national level this year. UNM should also get a boost in the 800 from rookies Kurt Henry and Jarrin Solomon, whose fathers Matt Henry and Michael Solomon were both All-Americans at New Mexico in the 1970s. Fellow freshmen Chris Bratton (Albuquerque, N.M.), Michael Deason (Las Cruces, N.M.) and Matt Schubert (San Diego, Calif.) could also make an impact in the distance events.
POLE VAULT/JUMPS -Under the guidance of fifth-year assistant coach Scott Steffan, New Mexico has developed one of the top pole vault units in the Mountain West. Three men qualified for the NCAA Midwest Region Championships and were ranked among the top-10 in the MWC last spring. Senior Mark Johnson went on to finish tied for ninth at the regional meet while freshman Robert Caldwell (Socorro, N.M.) placed fourth at the MWC Outdoor Championships. Despite losing Johnson to graduation, Steffan's all-New Mexico group should be just as strong in 2005 with Caldwell, senior Derek Mackel (Albuquerque, N.M.), junior Zach Bingham (Albuquerque, N.M.) and freshman Zach Graham (Carlsbad, N.M.) leading the way.
Caldwell and Mackel each cleared 16-04.75 last spring and could vie for all-conference honors in one of the league's most competitive events. Mackel, in particular, could be poised to turn in a real breakthrough season this spring after impressing the coaches with his offseason training regiment. Bingham could also emerge as a MWC scoring threat with continued improvement this year, while Graham, who earned high school All-America honors with a personal best height of 16-06, will be counted on to make an immediate impact.
Defending MWC outdoor high jump champion Hank Baskett will sit out the 2005 season as he prepares for his final football campaign, but New Mexico will still have some weapons in the jumps this spring. Senior Willie Yuen (Albuquerque, N.M.), a five-time indoor and outdoor triple jump finalist is back to lead the team in both horizontal jumps. Ranked among the top-10 in the conference in the long jump as well, Yuen should continue to be an unassuming force in both events this spring. Junior decathletes Dan Feltman and Rodney Hocker (Ignacio, Colo.), meanwhile, both have outstanding potential in the long jump, while freshman multi-event standout Derek McDonald should provide immediate help in both the long jump and high jump. Rookie Domnick Meadows (Albuquerque, N.M.) could also emerge as a scoring threat in the triple jump this spring.
The Lobos' also have an explosive wildcard in the form of 6-5 senior Alfred Neale (Summit, Okla.), who has said he intends to join the team in April after he completes his basketball career. Known for his high-flying dunks on the basketball court, Neale was also twice a junior college All-American in the high jump, owning a personal-best mark of 7-04.50. Hernia surgery and an academic conflict kept Neale on the shelf in 2004, but UNM coaches believe he has the talent to be one of the top jumpers in the country this year.
JAVELIN/THROWS -Though the team's overall depth will be a concern in the throwing events, New Mexico returns several powerful competitors in the javelin, starting with junior Dan Feltman who has finished among the top-five in the Mountain West each of the past two years. UNM also returns junior Matt Keeran (Albuquerque, N.M.), a two-time all-conference honoree in the event, after elbow surgery forced him to miss the 2004 season. Coaches said they hope that Keeran, who owns a personal best of 206-09, can make a successful recovery and return to the league's elite this year. Fellow junior Reuben Trujillo (Los Lunas, N.M.), meanwhile, will look to return to the form that made him a finalist at the 2003 MWC Championships.
UNM will miss all-MWC honoree Jason Barkemeyer's presence in the shot put and discus, but fifth-year senior Jordan Parker (Albuquerque, N.M.) returns after redshirting in 2004. Parker has worked diligently over the past four years, climbing from the bottom of the league rankings to become one of the top discus and shot put men in the Mountain West. An indoor finalist in the shot put last winter, and the discus in 2003, the 6-6 Parker will shoulder the Lobos' scoring load in both events this spring. Once he shakes off the rust from a year off from competition, UNM coaches said they believe Parker can resume his ascent up the MWC performance lists. Sophomore Gary Hoodless (Cuba, N.M.), joins Parker in the discus and shot put, and will also contribute in the hammer throw. Though undersized, coaches said they believe Hoodless could gradually develop into a scoring threat in one of the nation's elite throwing conferences.
Scott Steffan's decathlon corps enjoyed a banner year in 2004, as UNM established itself as one of the top groups in the Mountain West Conference. Academic All-American Mark Johnson secured his place as one of the top multi-event talents in UNM history, winning the MWC indoor heptathlon title, finishing second in the MWC decathlon and capping his career with a 16th place performance at the NCAA Championships. Sophomore Dan Feltman, meanwhile, placed fourth in the decathlon at the conference meet with an NCAA provisional qualifying score of 7,325 points, while second year man Rodney Hocker (Ignacio, Colo.) turned in a solid heptathlon debut indoors.
Probably the team's finest all-around athlete, the 6-4 Feltman had been plagued by injuries and bad luck before finally breaking through at the conference meet last spring. Henry said he believes Feltman enters his junior season more focused, hungry and determined to take his place among the nation's best.
Feltman and fellow junior Hocker will also get some help from second-year senior Jason Bigott (Los Alamos, N.M.) and a big boost from true freshman Derek McDonald (Albuquerque, N.M.). McDonald was rated as one of the country's top prep decathletes last year by Track & Field News and could be one the top young competitors in the Mountain West in 2005.