Jan. 23, 2004
The UNM women's team will boast a strong, young core of talent this spring that could be a rising force in the Mountain West Conference in the coming years. Head coach Matt Henry and his staff will certainly miss graduated veteran Keren Sari-Bentzur, an elite heptathlete who was a conference scoring threat in four individual events. However, with 18 newcomers joining a promising group of 22 returning letterwinners, Henry has room for optimism.
"We're definitely going to miss having that person who can score 30 points at a conference meet, especially in the jumps, but overall we're going to be better," he said. "We have more girls, better depth and we've got girls with great attitudes which I think is really going to help us."
SPRINTS, HURDLES, RELAYS -
New Mexico's sprint corps could be one of the most improved units on the track this spring with several promising newcomers poised to give a big boost to a rising group of returnees. Last year, the top UNM runners in the 100, 200 and 400 meters were either true freshmen or sophomores and the results were predictably inconsistent. However, the young Lobos gained a tremendous amount of experience and showed flashes of greater things to come.
Sophomore Kimilia Davis (Bellaire, Texas) was one of the top newcomers a year ago, leading the team in the 200 and 400 and just missing the 400-meter finals at the MWC Outdoor Championships. This spring, Davis is poised to develop into a real conference scoring threat with a full year of collegiate training under her belt.
Junior Erin Teske (Alamogordo, N.M.) was the team's top 100 runner a year ago and should continue to be a dependable member of the sprint group this spring. Improving sophomore Brandilyn Williams (Houston, Texas), meanwhile, will also look to take another step forward after contributing nicely in the 100 and 200-meter events in 2003. Fellow sophomores Sandra Maxwell (Rio Rancho, N.M.) and Tiara Poland (Albuquerque, N.M) also enjoyed solid collegiate debuts and could work their way up the conference rankings in the 400 this spring.
According to Henry, all of the Lobo freshmen will have the opportunity to make an immediate impact in the sprints this season. Lauren Graham (Oklahoma City, Okla.) and KC Pritchard (Moriarty, N.M.) should give UNM a big lift in the short sprints. Graham has run under 12 seconds in the 100, while Pritchard is a former New Mexico 4A champion in the event. With a personal best of 56 seconds, Brandie Mills (Missouri City, Texas) should make her presence felt in 400. Triple jumper Jai McBride (Houston, Texas), meanwhile, could also contribute in both the 200 and 400.
Both the short and long hurdles will be wide open this year with no full-time hurdlers returning from the 2003 season. Henry said sophomore Nicole Hansen-Solum (Albuquerque, N.M.) is the top candidate to lead the team in both events. A spring semester transfer from Arizona State last year, Hansen-Solum enjoyed an impressive prep career, capturing a pair of 5A state titles in the 300-meter hurdles at Albuquerque Eldorado High School. After a full year of training, the 5-8 Hansen-Solum will look to give the Lobos a presence in both the 100 and 400-meter hurdles. Multi-event athlete Amber Nolte (Sparks, Nev.) will continue to help the squad in the 100-meter hurdles, as will freshman heptathlete Stefany Setliff (El Paso, Texas). Newcomers Eileen Onsurez (Loving, N.M.) and Rena Herrera (Pecos, N.M.) will also have an opportunity to make an impact this fall.
The New Mexico 4x100 and 4x400-meter relay teams should be much improved this spring with at least 12 athletes, including all four members of last year's top-ranked squads, available for duty.
"Our young athletes have worked hard and are steadily improving, and we've added some talented newcomers that really give us some good depth," said Henry. "This group is only going to get better and better in the coming years."
Like the sprinters, the Lobo middle and long distance crew is a rising force on the team with new talent being added each season to compliment a strong group of returnees.
Senior Amanda Swann (Clovis, N.M.) turned in a courageous season a year ago, leading UNM in both the 800 and 1,500 despite running through a painful case of plantar fasciatis in both feet. After undergoing surgery in the offseason, Swann appears healthy and ready to make some noise in the middle distances this spring.
According to Henry, the Lobo middle distance runners should receive a big boost this spring with the healthy return of junior Jacquelyne Gallegos (Pojoaque, N.M.). After a car accident sidelined her for virtually all of 2002-03, Gallegos finished a grueling 2003 cross country campaign on a positive note, turning in her best performance of the year in the season-finale. Henry said that Gallegos has kept momentum going this winter and could be poised to return the all-conference levels of performance she enjoyed as the Lobos' top 800 and 1,500 runner as a true freshman in 2002.
A pair of true freshmen in Riann Lucy (Albuqueque, N.M.) and Brandie Mills should also step in and make an immediate impact in the middle distances this spring. Lucy captured the New Mexico 5A title in the 1,600 meters as a junior, before clocking a time of 2:17.36 to win the 800 as a senior. Mills, meanwhile, was an 800-meter finalist at the elite Texas 5A championships and boasts a personal record of 2:16 in the event.
In the long distance events, stalwart senior Sarah Gonzales (Albuquerque, N.M.) will lead the Lobos and challenge the MWC elite once again this spring. Since arriving at UNM as an unheralded walk-on, Gonzales has quietly logged 30 career races on the track (15 more than any other distance runner on the roster) and emerged as one of the Mountain West's top 5,000-meter runners. After scoring for the first time in her career with an eighth place finish in the 5K at the 2003 Outdoor Championships, Gonzales became the first UNM woman to earn first team all-conference honors in over 11 years at the 2003 MWC Cross Country Championships. This spring, Henry said he expects the hard-working senior to continue her unlikely climb up the Mountain West rankings.
"What can you say about Sarah Gonzales," said Henry. "She just keeps at it year after year. She's had such a special career, I'm so proud of her and I'm looking forward to watching her go out on top as a senior."
Up-and-coming sophomores Timmie Murhpy (Farmington, N.M.) and Janice Tosa (Jemez Pueblo, N.M.) will look to keep pace with Gonzales in the 5,000 after turning in solid debut seasons in 2003. Murphy competed in seven indoor and outdoor races last year, while Tosa was the Lobos' top-ranked 3,000-meter runner indoors before redshirting the outdoor season. Veteran distance runner Vanessa Funston (Albuquerque, N.M.) will also help in the 5K, while senior newcomer Brooke Gosling (Orangeville, Canada) could give UNM a presence in the 10,000.
JUMPS/POLE VAULT -
Henry and his staff will face some challenges in the jumps this season with the graduation of multi-event star Keren Sari-Bentzur, who was one of the league's top long, triple and high jumpers the past three years. The cupboard is not bare, however, as several athletes will have an opportunity to step up and make a name for themselves this spring.
Senior high jumper Erin Johnson (Albuquerque, N.M.) will look to build on her breakthrough junior campaign as she leads the young Lobo jumpers in 2004. A Midwest regional qualifier and MWC Championship finalist last spring, Johnson was a fixture at Great Friends of UNM Track Stadium during the offeseason, completing her rigorous training program. Henry said he believes Johnson's talent and intense work ethic could propel her to another regional berth and perhaps all-conference status in the high jump this year.
A pair of heptathletes in sophomore Suzanne Nguyen (Albuquerque, N.M.) and freshman Stefany Setliff will contribute in vertical and horizontal jumps this season, while former New Mexico state champion Tiara Poland could also help in the long jump. True freshman Jai McBride will take over the triple jump duties after completing a solid prep career at Houston Westbury High School. Local products Charity Maxwell (Albuquerque, N.M.) and Jamie Padilla (Albuquerque, N.M.) will also have a chance to contribute in the horizontal jumps.
The status of Lobo pole vault crew is a bit of a mystery entering the season largely due to the question mark regarding the health of junior Bridgid Isworth (Melbourne, Australia). Last year, Isworth shattered the UNM indoor and outdoor records, captured the MWC indoor title and was the runner-up outdoors in the event during in her debut season. She also became the first UNM woman ever to compete at the NCAA Indoor Championships and was one of the top-ranked vaulters in the Midwest Regional field before being sidelined with a foot injury prior to the meet. The nagging injury kept Isworth from training much of the offseason and according to Henry it could take some time to determine the timeline for her return to the runway.
With Isworth's availability up in the air, Henry said he will look for junior Amber Nolte as well as freshmen Nicole Huyge and Stefany Setliff to give the Lobos a scoring threat in the event. A sixth place finisher at the MWC Outdoor Championships two years ago, Nolte owns a collegiate best of 12-feet in the event. Huyge and Setliff, meanwhile, each vaulted over 11 feet in high school and should continue their progression under vault coach Scott Steffan. Sophomore Cheyenne Renfroe (Cimarron, N.M.) also showed promise in the event last year as a redshirt freshman and could be another weapon for New Mexico.
THROWS -New Mexico boasts a young, promising group of throwers, led by junior Amanda Barnes (Carlsbad, N.M.), an NCAA Midwest regional qualifier last spring. In just two short years, Barnes has already established herself as the best shot putter in UNM history. Last year, she set both indoor and outdoor school records in the event and became the first UNM woman ever to win a conference title in the throwing events with her shot put title at the 2003 MWC Outdoor Championships.
"This conference in the throws is nuts and for her to stand on top of the podium as the shot put champion was something very special," said Henry. "The competition is going to be just as intense this year, but Amanda has a lot of room to improve and she's continued to work very hard."
Barnes will also compete in the discus and hammer, where she will be joined by fellow junior Jamie Fishencord (Littleton, Colo.). Fishencord enjoyed her best collegiate season, competing in the challenging hammer throw for the first time. She steadily improved throughout the year and eventually etched her name in the school record book at season's end. As she enters her second full season of competition in the event, Henry said he looks for Fishencord to continue her climb up the elite Mountain West rankings.
Junior Veronica R. Gonzales (Carlsbad, N.M.) will lead a burgeoning Lobo javelin crew once again this season after a fine 2003 campaign. Gonzales made dramatic improvement last spring, placing a solid sixth at the MWC Championships and working her way into the NCAA Midwest regional field.
This year, Gonzales will have plenty of help in the event with returning letterwinner Amanda Grover (Albuquerque, N.M.) back, along with a trio of freshmen joining the group. Two-time Great Southwest Classic champion Kayla Brown (Bloomfield, N.M.) leads the newcomers, boasting a personal-best of 134-08 in the event. The Lobos will also get a boost from New Mexico state champions Jessica Thompson (Silver City, N.M.) and Tammy Dixon (Elida, N.M.).
To say that the Lobos will miss the presence of veteran Keren Sari-Bentzur would be quite an understatement. A two-time NCAA heptathlon participant who finished her three-year career as one of the best multi-event competitors in Mountain West Conference history, Sari-Bentzur captured the 2003 MWC pentathlon title and established a lofty school record in the event that may not be challenged for several years. This season, however, several fresh faces will have an opportunity to step up and carry the UNM flag.
Returning letterwinners Amber Nolte and Suzanne Nguyen both gained significant experience competing and training with Sari-Bentzur in 2003 and should continue to improve this year. True freshman Stefany Stetliff, meanwhile, has a bright future as a heptathlete and could be a factor in MWC competition in the coming years.