March 22, 2013
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — When asked about the season opener, Lobo head coach Joe Franklin didn’t mince words.
“Don’t expect a lot, except effort.”
With the 2013 outdoor campaign starting up, the University of New Mexico track and field team is looking to showcase some early season energy and capture a strong beginning to the season at the UTEP Springtime Invitational on Saturday.
The Lobos — coming off of a strong indoor season that saw a men’s championship and a women’s runner-up performance at the Mountain West Indoor Championships — are gearing up for an outdoor season full of potential.
“It’s just the start of an important outdoor season,” Franklin said of the meet. “[We’re] just getting back running again. For some people it’s been three weeks since their last competition.”
Since most of the Lobos haven’t competed since the men won a Mountain West title on February 23, the UTEP Springtime Invitational is shaping up to be a meet for athletes to get back to competing.
A number of Lobos, including the runners and horizontal jumpers, will open their seasons in events in which they don’t usually compete, while a handful of athletes, like the throwers and vertical jumpers, are slated to compete in their main events.
And while most athletes aren’t projecting off-the-charts debuts at Kidd Field in El Paso, Texas, on Saturday, UNM New Mexico is nevertheless searching for constructive results.
“[We’re looking for] a positive experience, a positive effort,” Franklin said. “Going to UTEP is always an interesting trip.”
And while the season may start interestingly a few miles down I-25, New Mexico has its sights set high this outdoor season.
The Lobo men are in position for another superlative season after sending more than four athletes to the NCAA Outdoor Championships for the fifth straight year.
They are headlined by 2012 NCAA indoor long jump champion Kendall Spencer and 2012 NCAA outdoor triple jump runner up Floyd Ross, a duo that has propelled the men to a rank of 29th in the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association's preseason computer rankings.
Both were called two of the best jumpers in the country by Franklin in early January, and both have led the men in the field in 2013.
However, the Lobo men also receive championships-caliber contributions from their distance crew, which features two All-Americans in Luke Caldwell and Ross Millington, as well as Patrick Zacharias, Sean Stam and Adam Bitchell.
The mid-distance and sprints are also strong contributors for the UNM men, with Sam Evans, Gabe Aragon and Alex Herring in the mid-distance, and Spencer, Ridge Jones, Charles Lewis, Derek Montoya and Carlos Wiggins in the sprints.
Rounding out the men’s complement of athletes are some talent field athletes, which includes Django Lovett (high jump), Logan Pflibsen (pole vault), Robert Warensjo (pole vault), Richard York (decathlon/javelin) and Michael Ellis (javelin).
Still, in spite of the athletes the Lobos return from 2012’s third-place outdoor Mountain West finish, the UNM men are an unfinished product.
“We need some improvement in some event areas,” Franklin said. “We hope to see that improvement sooner, rather than later, because the goal is to try to contend for an outdoor championship on both sides. Maybe we can be in the hunt.”
The men, who own the 2012 MW cross-country title along with their indoor track and field title, are aiming to the first team since BYU in 2009 to win all three championships.
And while the men are striving for a triple crown, the women are seeking to build off of a second-place team performance indoors.
The women's jumpers can also produce solid marks, with pole vaulters Amber Menke, Margo Tucker and Nathalie Busk; horizontal jumpers Yeshemabet Turner, Aasha Marler and Casey Dowling; and high jumper Samantha Bowe.
Sprinters Shirley Pitts, Tawsha Brazley, Zoe Howell and Kayla Fisher-Taylor are also aiming for championships, as Pitts, Brazley and Howell looks for progress in the 400 and Fisher-Taylor aims for gains in the short sprints.
Hurdlers Precious Selmon and Holly Van Grinsven are also projecting as solid contributors, as is Bowe, a burgeoning force in the pentathlon.
And while the prospects of NCAA-caliber marks are a few weeks of progress off, Franklin and his staff already have the goal of getting athletes in top 48 of the national rankings and consequently to the first round of the NCAA Outdoor Championships in late May.
Nonetheless, Franklin is being realistic about qualifying people at UTEP.
“I would be surprised if that happened this weekend, but you never know.”
All it takes it some effort.