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Lobos Welcome 13 Collegiate Teams For 2006 Season Opener
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  09/06/2006
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Sept. 6, 2006

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UPCOMING

The University of New Mexico cross country season gets underway this Saturday, Sept. 9 as the Lobos welcome 13 collegiate teams and 24 high school squads to the UNM North Golf Course for one of the biggest meets in the state each year, the Lobo Invitational. The event is one of at least six meets on the UNM schedule this year, including the 2006 NCAA Mountain Region Championships, which will be held at the North Course on Nov. 11. Saturday's action begins with a Community 5K Fun Run at 7 a.m., followed by varsity high school races at 8 and the collegiate competition beginning at 8:40. The morning concludes with JV and C team high school boys and girls from 9:30-11:30.

SCOUTING THE COLLEGIATE FIELD

As usual, the Lobo Invitational boasts a collegiate field that features some of the top teams in both the region and nation, including host New Mexico.

Rio Grande rival UTEP fielded one of the best men's team in the country last year, winning the Conference USA title, placing second at the Mountain Regionals and finishing 14th at the NCAA Championships. The Miners return a pair of All-Americans this year in junior Stephen Samoei and sophomore Japheth Ng'ojoy. Sophomore Patrick Mutai was the individual winner at the Lobo Invitational last year.

Texas Tech returns three NCAA Championship qualifiers from a year ago in seniors Kevin Chelimo, Violet Chemakwila and Irene Kimaiyo. All three runners earned all-Big 12 honors for the Red Raiders. Kimaiyo was the 2004 Lobo Invitational winner.

The Texas A&M men and women both finished seventh in the Big 12 last year and the men's team placed third at the South Central Regional meet. Sophomore Sarah Balfour was an NCAA Championship qualifier last year, placing 125th overall. Texas A&M head track coach Pat Henry is the older brother of UNM coaches Matt and Mark.

Lobo Invitational regular LSU returns to Albuquerque after placing seventh on the men's and women's side last fall. The Tigers were expected to miss last year's meet after the Hurricane Katrina disaster struck Louisiana, but managed to get all of their athletes to Albuquerque in time for the meet.

Intrastate rival New Mexico State rounds out the Division I field. Junior Josh Sifuentes, an all-Western Athletic Conference runner last year, and senior Chris West lead the NMSU men, while senior Ann Gagliardi is the Aggies' top threat on the women's side.

Collegiate Teams (14): Diné College, CU-Colorado Springs, El Paso CC, Highlands University, LSU, Lubbock Christian, New Mexico, New Mexico JC, New Mexico State, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, UTEP, Wayland Baptist, Western New Mexico.

High School Teams (24): Albuquerque Academy, Albuquerque HS, Cibola HS, Crown Point HS, Del Norte HS, Eldorado HS, Española Valley HS, Fort Wingate HS, Highland HS, La Cueva HS, Los Alamos HS, Manzano HS, Moriarty HS, Navajo Pine HS, Pojoaque HS, Rio Grande HS, Ruidoso HS, Sand Creek HS (Colorado Springs, Colo.), Sandia HS, St. Michael's HS, Thoreau HS, Valencia HS, Valley HS, West Mesa HS.

MEET INFORMATION/RESULTS

Collegiate and varsity high school results will be available online at www.golobos.com approximately one hour following the conclusion of the meet.

Schedule:
7:00 a.m. - Community Fun Run (5,000m)
8:00 a.m. - Varsity Boys (5,000m)
8:20 a.m. - Varsity Girls (5,000m)
8:40 a.m. - Collegiate Men (8,000m)
9:10 a.m. - Collegiate Women (6,000m)

9:30 a.m. - Junior Varsity Boys (5,000m)
9:50 a.m. - Junior Varsity Girls (5,000m)
10:15 a.m. - C Team Girls
11:00 a.m. - C Team Boys

DIRECTIONS: (the golf course is located near the corner of Yale Blvd. and Tucker Rd. on the UNM North Campus)

(from I-25 north) Take Lomas exit and head east, towards the mountains, on Lomas Blvd. Turn left on Yale Blvd. and continue north before turning right on Tucker Rd. The golf course clubhouse and parking lot will be on the left.

(from I-25 south) Take Lomas exit and turn left, heading east on Lomas Blvd. Turn left on Yale Blvd. and continue north before turning right on Tucker Rd. The golf course clubhouse and parking lot will be on the left.

(from I-40) Exit I-25 south then take Lomas exit and head east, towards the mountains, on Lomas Blvd. Turn left on Yale Blvd. and continue north before turning right on Tucker Rd. The golf course clubhouse and parking lot will be on the left.

LOBO INVITATIONAL HISTORY

This season marks the seventh running of the UNM Lobo Invitational under head coach Matt Henry. After a six-year absence, Henry brought NCAA cross country competition back to Albuquerque with the 2000 Lobo Invitational. In 2002, Henry expanded the meet to include six high school races and in 2004, he added a 5K community fun run to open the day. Each year, thousands of distance running fans flock to UNM's North Campus to watch the competition on one of the most spectator-friendly cross country courses in the nation.

Five different teams have won the men's title, including the host Lobos in 2002 and `04. New Mexico's score of 21 points in 2002 is a meet record. Shadrack Kiptoo-Biwott is the only UNM runner to win the individual race (2004), while Air Force's Ben Payne broke the tape in 2001 and `02. Payne's time of 24:01 in `02 is the North Course record.

The women's race has seen five different team champions with Air Force taking back-to-back titles in 2001 and `02. Western State college set the meet record with a score of 21 points in the inaugural Lobo Invite in 2001. New Mexico has had two individual winners in Sarah Gonzales (2001) and Jacquelyne Gallegos (2005). Gallegos set the course record with her time of 21:37 last year.

LOBO INVITATIONAL PAST RESULTS

MEN

YEAR • TEAM WINNER •INDIVIDUAL WINNER
2000 • Western State (22 pts.) • Brandon Leslie, Adams State (24:34)
2001* • Air Force (26 pts.) • Ben Payne, Air Force (24:20)
2002 • New Mexico (21 pts.) • Ben Payne, Air Force (24:01)
2003 • Colorado State (35 pts.) • Will Banks, Western State (24:45)
2004 • New Mexico (35 pts.)• Shadrack Kiptoo-Biwott, UNM (24:44)
2005 • Adams State (44 pts.) • Patrick Mutai, UTEP (24:28)

WOMEN

YEAR •TEAM WINNER •INDIVIDUAL WINNER
2000 • Western State (21 pts.) • Jennifer Michel, unattached (21:38)
2001* • Air Force (30 pts.) • Sarah Gonzales, UNM (22:25)
2002 • Air Force (39 pts.) • Rachel Cuellar, NMSU (22:04)
2003 • Colorado State (36 pts.) • Adriana Pirtea, UTEP (22:10)
2004 • Texas Tech (26 pts.) • Irene Kimaiyo, Texas Tech (22:01)
2005 • Adams State (30 pts.) • Jacquelyne Gallegos, UNM (21:37)

* 2001 meet was held at the Paradise Hills Golf Course in West Albuquerque.

WOMEN'S 2006 OUTLOOK

After 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 OUTLOOK

Despite 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.

One of the most talented distance runners Henry has had at UNM, Johnson has shown outstanding flashes of ability since his return to New Mexico. If he can put together a solid, healthy season, Henry said a hungry Johnson will be a strong candidate to make his way into the NCAA Championship meet this fall.

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.

Friday, October 31
11:00 AM - 
Cross Country
at Mountain West Cross Country Championships
Friday, November 14
All Day - 
Cross Country
vs. NCAA Mountain Region Championships
Saturday, November 22
All Day - 
Cross Country
at NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships
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