May 7, 2013
LAS VEGAS — It's time for the Lobos to play with house money.
In a high-stakes, winner-takes-all showdown, the University of New Mexico track and field teams are aiming for a prime-time payday as they roll up to this week's Mountain West Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Sheila Tarr Smith Field at Myron Partridge Stadium in Las Vegas.
The Lobos, who are definite challengers on both the men's and women's sides, look to cash in on the expectations as the men set their sights on the “Triple Crown”—winning the conference titles in cross-country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field.
But it won't be an easy feat to accomplish.
“Sometimes people win really big in Las Vegas,” said New Mexico head coach Joe Franklin. “But the odds are always against you.”
While bettors aren't setting spreads for this clash among Mountain West rivals, the Lobo men are shaping up as contenders in the six-team field that features Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State and Wyoming.
However, the men are in that position despite not being dealt the best hand as a number of potential scorers are redshirting or injured and won't be competing this week.
“We've ended up redshirting or have had people coming off injury [and that amounts to] probably 70 points,” Franklin said. “It's going to be very difficult.”
Nonetheless, the men are primed to pull off the program's first “Triple Crown” after claiming the school's first indoor track and field title in February and the program's fourth-straight cross-country crown last October. The Lobos came close to achieving this in 1965 and 1966, winning both the cross-country and outdoor track and field titles.
Pacing the men's championship bid are the Lobos' full house of distance stars and jumping standouts.
Luke Caldwell, a two-time indoor conference champ in February, is entered in the 5000-meter run and the 10000-meter run and looks to lead the men with his conference-leading time in the 5K.
Patrick Zacharias is also aiming for a high payout in the 5K and 10K, as are Elmar Engholm, Alex Herring and Adam Bitchell in the 1500. Herring is also entered in the 800 alongside Gabe Aragon and JP Cordova, while Engholm is slated to compete in the 3000 steeplechase.
However, the men's jumpers are looking to up the ante as they come in with three conference leaders.
Kendall Spencer leads the MW in the long jump, while Ty Kirk and Django Lovett are on top of the conference in the triple jump and high jump, respectively. Both Spencer and Lovett claimed MW titles at the indoor championships, while Kirk is rolling as of late in the triple jump.
Floyd Ross, who has competed only once outdoors, is also scheduled to defend his recent indoor crown in the triple jump.
Additional field athletes competing are Marcus Simon and Michael Ellis in the javelin; Robert Warensjo in the pole vault; Yannick Roggatz and Zach Smith in the long jump; and Markus Miller in the high jump.
Still, Franklin understands how difficult it will for New Mexico to repeat outdoors with a number of important athletes out and a group of staunch opponents.
“There's just so many unknowns,” he said. “Maybe we can get there and do everything we can and see if we can be relevant when the 4x4 comes around.”
For the women, the key of the meet will almost entirely be relevancy.
“We hope to improve on last year's stellar seventh-place finish,” Franklin said, referring to the women's decidedly lackluster seventh-place showing at the 2012 outdoor championships.
But Franklin has confidence as the women place their bets versus the nine-team field, which includes Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State, Nevada, San Diego State, UNLV and Wyoming.
“I think the women will be significantly better,” he said. “I think they have an outside shot if things go well.”
While nationally ranked San Diego State is the odd-on favorite to repeat on their indoor title, the women are in the conversation and are sitting on a strong hand.
For the women, their title shot runs through the runners, which features athletes ranked top-three in the MW in six of the 10 individual track events.
Josephine Moultrie headlines the charge with her conference-leading times in the 1500 and 5000. Moultrie, who is also entered in the 800, is backed by the solid supporting cast of Imogen Ainsworth (1500, 3000 steeplechase), Chloe Anderson (800, 1500), Charlotte Arter (800, 1500), Kirsten Follett (1500), Nicola Hood (5000, 3000 steeplechase), Janna Mitsos (5000), Kendra Schaaf (5000, 10000) and Shawna Winnegar (5000, 10000).
“That group of distance runners is running pretty darn well,” Franklin said.
However, the wild card for the women might just be the sprints. Shirley Pitts, who is returning home to Las Vegas, is the best of the bunch and leads Tawsha Brazley, Zoe Howell and Jasmin McCray in the 400. Kayla Fisher-Taylor can also produce for the Lobos in the short sprints.
Currently, the Lobo women check in at third in the Women's Mountain Region Rankings that was released by the U.S. Track and Field/Cross Country Coaches Association on Tuesday. The Lobo men are ranked 12th in the men's version of the same rankings. In the national rankings, the men are ranked 58th and the women are 85th.
The meet kicks off Wednesday, May 8, with the women's heptathlon at 10:30 a.m., and is followed up Thursday with the conclusion of the men's decathlon at 11 a.m. On Friday, the women's 10000 opens the day at 8 a.m., with field events starting up with the women's discus at 10 a.m. The meet's final day, Saturday, starts with the women's 5000 at 8 a.m. and ends at 3:10 p.m. with the men's 4x400 relay.
Live results are available through the Mountain West's official website. Check both GoLobos.com and TheMWC.com for results and recaps, including a full New Mexico recap Saturday.