Feb. 25, 2005
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - Four years after winning his first Mountain West Conference title, University of New Mexico senior Ben Ortega found himself standing atop the medals podium once again today at the 2005 MWC Indoor Track and Field Championships. The pride of Taos, N.M. improved his school record and NCAA provisional qualifying standing with a time of 14:06.95 (altitude adjusted) to win the 5,000 meters by nearly six seconds over top-ranked Josh Glaab of Colorado State. Ortega was one of three individuals to earn all-MWC honors on the second day of the league championships, in addition to the men's distance medley relay team, as both the UNM men and women finished the day in fifth place.
Ortega was the MWC outdoor champion in the 10,000 as a true freshman in 2001 and was fourth in the indoor 5,000 in both `01 and `04. After being slowed by injuries during the middle stages of his career he has proven to be a man on a mission in his final year, earning victories in each of his three races this winter. The first indoor 5K champion in UNM history, Ortega upset Glaab and second-ranked Brian Dumm of Air Force (8th), as well as the league's No. 1 3,000 runner in BYU's Josh Rohatinski (3rd). New Mexico's men had gone 13 years without an indoor conference event title before Mark Johnson's victory in the heptathlon last year.
"That was really an exciting race," said UNM head coach Matt Henry. "Rohatinski and Josh Glaab made their move about midway through the race and you would've thought Ben was out of it, but he hung in there and with one lap to go he reeled in Rohatinski."
On the women's side, the Lobos' big-meet competitor came through once again. when it mattered most. Ranked seventh entering the meet, senior Amanda Barnes became New Mexico's first-ever all-conference honoree in the weight throw with a stunning third place finish. Remarkably, Barnes needed just one legal toss to obliterate her own school record and surpass the NCAA provisional qualifying standard in the weight throw. The Carlsbad, N.M. native fouled on her first two attempts, then unleashed a throw of 60-10.75 - nearly six feet beyond her previous best mark, before fouling on her final three attempts. Barnes was also the program's first-ever all-MWC performer in the indoor shot put, placing third in the event last year. Senior teammate Jaime Fishencord, meanwhile, was ninth in the weight throw with a career-best mark of 55-01.00 after placing eighth in 2004.
True freshman Whitney Johnson became the second UNM woman in the past three years to earn all-Mountain West honors in the pole vault, finishing third with a clearance of 13-00.25. Johnson improved her season-best for the fourth straight week and squeezed past the NCAA provisional qualifying standard in the event. She also came within 2.25 inches of teammate Bridgid Isworth's 2003 school record in the event. Isworth, unfortunately, failed to record a mark after entering the competition at 12-00.50.
The men's distance medley relay team of freshman Shadrack Kiptoo-Biwott, sophomore Randle McCain, senior Cameron Clarke and senior Matt Gonzales capped the day with the best performance in UNM history and an NCAA provisional qualifying time en route to a runner-up finish for the second straight season. The Lobo foursome clocked an altitude adjusted school record time of 9:49.15, just over two seconds behind BYU, which won the event for the third straight year.
In a near replay of the previous year's race, the 5-5 Gonzales took the final handoff in third place, and quickly reeled CSU's runner in the mile. He then caught up to Cougar anchor Nathan Robison, one of the nation's premier milers, and briefly led before the 6-1 Robison outsprinted him down the stretch. Gonzales, who has said he enjoys racing Robison more than any other opponent, was on the short end of a similar showdown last year in the MWC indoor mile finals, as Robison squeezed edged the Santa Fe native by .07 seconds for the gold medal.
"We thought BYU was going to use most of their `B' team guys, but they decided before the race to change the names they had originally (on the start list) and put in their big people," Henry said. "Shadrack put us in third place afte the first leg, then Randle McCain made up some ground in the 400, which is hard to do, but Cameron Clarke was really impressive. An hour after running the 800 prelims, he runs a 1:53 800 split and gave Matt a heck of a chance in the mile, but you just aren't going to beat Robison in a sprint like that."
Earlier in the day, first-year heptathletes Derek McDonald and Jason Bigott combined for six points, finishing fifth and seventh, respectively. McDonald, a true freshman, slipped one spot over the final three events, but recorded a career-best score of 4,966. The former Albuquerque Eldorado High School standout finished just 67 points shy of earning all-conference honors and was 130 points behind the winner, Air Force senior Caleb Pelger. The surprising senior Bigott, meanwhile, turned in a strong effort in the 60m hurdles and 1,000-meter run to score in his first and final MWC heptathlon competition.
McDonald also got a leg up on team high-point honors, adding seven more points with a fifth place finish in the long jump (23-00.00) and a sixth place effort in the high jump (6-04.25). In other finals results from Friday, senior Jacquelyne Gallegos placed ninth in her first career indoor 5,000-meter race, then helped the UNM women's distance medley relay team finish sixth (12:29.31) despite battling a stomach flu.
New Mexico's men also had five athletes in four events qualify for Saturday finals as the team guns for its best league finish indoors in over a decade. In his first MWC indoor meet since 2003, senior Ahmed Raji qualified in both the 60 (7.00) and 200 meters (21.90). Sophomore Jeramie White was the 10th and final qualifier in the 200 (22.49), while 10th-ranked rookie Jarrin Solomon ran the sixth-fastest time in the 400 prelims (49.34) to advance to the finals. Senior Cameron Clarke also moved on in the 800, cruising to a preliminary time of 1:55.71.
The women were not as fortunate as true freshman Ariel Burr (400) and sophomore Riann Lucy (800) were the only Lobos to advance out of the preliminary heats. Ranked 14th in the 400 entering the meet, Burr came from nowhere to clock the seventh-fastest time of the day (56.75), while Lucy ran a strategic 2:18.52 to advance to the 800 finals. Freshman Kristan Matison fell a stunning .008 seconds shy of a berth in the 60-meter finals, finishing ninth behind San Diego State freshman Brittani Dudley (7.721) with a rare official time of 7.729.
With several powerful competitors yet to compete, the UNM men (31 points) are just one point behind Air Force and seven shy of third place Wyoming. New Mexico has not finished higher than fifth place at the indoor conference championships since 1991. New Mexico's women (15 points), which also have several scoring options remaining, will enter the final day of competition trailing third place Utah by just 11 points.