WOMEN'S 2006 OUTLOOKAfter a banner 2005 season that included a program-best second place finish at the Mountain West Conference Championships and MWC Women's Coach of the Year honors for Matt Henry, the New Mexico women's cross country team could be poised for its best campaign yet in 2007. The Lobos return a pair of first team all-MWC and all-NCAA Mountain Region runners in senior Timmie Murphy (Farmington, N.M.) and junior Leslie Luna (Albuquerque) that Henry said have only begun to hit their stride.
After redshirting the 2004 season, Murphy enjoyed a breakthrough campaign in `05. She finished among the top-20 in all five meets, including a 19th place effort at the NCAA regional meet. With senior leader Jacquelyne Gallegos sidelined with an injury late in the year, Murphy shined as the Lobos' No. 1 runner, placing seventh at Auburn and third at the MWC Championships - the best by a Lobo since 1992. She went on to set the UNM 3,000-meter record and place second in the event at the MWC Championships during the indoor track season before redshirting outdoors.
Luna, meanwhile, was easily the team's most improved cross country runner last fall. After scoring just once in five races as a true freshman in, she was among the Lobos' top-3 in every meet in `05. Luna placed sixth at the MWC Championships, an improvement of 41 spots on her finish the previous year. At the NCAA Mountain Region Championships, she improved a remarkable 71 spots from her rookie season with a 23rd place finish. Luna kept the momentum going during the track season, firmly establishing herself as one of the top distance runners in the MWC.
Five of the Lobos' top-7 runners from a year ago return this fall, including: two-year scorer Lindsay Barr (Jr., Albuquerque), senior Roxann James (Gallup, N.M.), and up-and-coming junior Melanie Velarde (Albuquerque). Veteran scorers Riann Lucy (RS-Jr., Albuquerque) and Stasia Ploskonka (Jr., Cedar Crest, N.M.) also have the talent to make a big impact as they work their back from injuries.
Barr has finished among the top-5 on the team in each of her 11 career races, while James was among the Lobos' top-7 in every meet in 2005, her first Division I season. Lucy was a scoring runner in 11 of her first 12 career races before injury and illness forced her to take a redshirt season last fall. Ploskonka, meanwhile, was one of the team's top-7 runners as a true freshman in 2004 before being slowed by injury last season.
Freshmen Vanessa Ortiz (Albuquerque) and Kelly McCabe (Albuquerque) lead a strong group of newcomers that should help the Lobos overcome the loss of veteran standouts Gallegos (three-time all-Mountain Region, two-time all-MWC) and Janice Tosa (24 races). Henry said both women have the talent to factor into the scoring mix right away.
Ortiz, a two-time Albuquerque Tribune Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year honoree at Cibola High School, won the 5A state title last fall, edging McCabe, the district champion from Highland High School. Both women excelled on the track as well with Ortiz taking two 5A 3,200m titles and McCabe winning a pair of 1,600m crowns along with the 800m gold medal in 2005.
While keeping the team healthy is always his No. 1 goal, Henry said the women's regular season schedule is set up for a possible run to the NCAA Championship meet. The season opens with a strong field in the home opener, followed by key road meets at Stanford and the Pre-Nationals in Terre Haute, Ind., the MWC Championships at Utah, and the critical NCAA Mountain Regionals being held in Albuquerque. With 21 years passed since the UNM women's team last advanced to the NCAA championship meet, the Lobos are hungry to make their mark on the national stage in 2006.
MEN'S 2006 OUTLOOKDespite a lack of star-power, the men of New Mexico could be one of the surprise teams in the Mountain West Conference this fall. Senior Juan Ortega (Albuquerque) and junior Jeremy Johnson (Albuquerque) lead a close-knit group that seventh-year head coach Matt Henry said has some of the best chemistry and camaraderie of any team he has coached at UNM. Ortega turned in his finest season in 2005, scoring in all five meets and notching a pair of top-25 finishes, including the MWC Championships (23rd), where he was the team's No. 2 runner. After three years in a support role, the hard-working Ortega will be asked to take on a new role as one of the leaders of a young team this fall.
Johnson, meanwhile, returns to Lobo cross country competition four years after his debut season in 2002. After a stellar rookie season, the former Manzano High School standout transferred briefly to Arizona before returning to UNM last year. Johnson sat out the 2005 track and cross country seasons due to NCAA regulations, but made a big splash when he returned for the 2006 indoor track season, earning all-MWC honors in the 5,000.
Junior Joseph Garcia (Belen, N.M.) also returns after scoring in all five races last year and has shown the ability to be one of the team's top threats on the cross country course. A tenacious, experienced runner, Henry said he expects Garcia to elevate his performance this fall and join Ortega and Johnson in the front of the Lobo pack.
Several runners with varsity experience will look to rise up the ranks as well this fall, including juniors Dylan Rose-Coss (Santa Fe, N.M.), Chris Bratton (Albuquerque), Michael Deason (Las Cruces, N.M.) and sophomore Ezra Esquibel (Albuquerque). All four men gained experience running with the team's top-7 in several meets last year.
A large group of 10 newcomers will have every opportunity to challenge for a spot on the Lobos' travel squad this season. Freshman Nick Argüelles (Albuquerque) was one of the top middle distance and cross country runners in the state as a senior at Highland High School and should be one of the Lobos' top young threats in `06. Argüelles' high school teammate, Sam Mellon (Albuquerque), second generation Lobo Jeremy Newland (Aztec, N.M.) and junior walk-on Karl Kalm (Albuquerque) could all be in contention for a spot in the top-7 as well.
Two years removed from a top-10 finish at the national meet, the UNM men's cross country team has a new identity. Young, hungry and eager to race, the 2006 Lobos will go as far as their teamwork and blue-collar work ethic will take them.