November 1, 2003
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Senior Sarah Gonzales finished seventh to lead the University of New Mexico women to a fifth place finish this morning at the Mountain West Conference Cross Country Championships at the UNM North Golf Course. Gonzales became the first UNM woman to earn a spot on the all-MWC team, garnering first team honors. In the men's race, New Mexico finished fourth, while No. 9 Air Force edged 10th ranked BYU 37-41 for its first MWC title. The second ranked Cougar women, meanwhile, breezed to their fifth consecutive league crown.
UNM head coach Matt Henry and his staff volunteered to host the 14-team event three days earlier after the heavy smoke from burning wildfires forced the event out of San Diego.
"It was great to be at home today," said Gonzales. "I think I heard my name called out about a million times out there and it was just great to have that support."
The 5-1 Gonzales was the story of the day as she turned in her best conference performance in her final collegiate race in her hometown. After recording an identical time and place of 16th and 22:16 at the past two MWC Championship meets, the former Cibola High School runner clocked a season-best 6,000-meter time of 22:03 to secure her best finish. Gonzales became the first Lobo woman to earn all-conference honors in seven years when Tangi Galloway finished 14th to garner second team honors at the 1996 Western Athletic Conference Championships.
"I didn't really have any individual goals today, I just wanted to run fast to help my team," said Gonzales. "Since I've been here, I've just tried to improve every year, but this is unexpected."
Gonzales' strong performance helped the Lobos hold off sixth place San Diego State, 141-143, to match their best MWC finish (2001). Sophomore Janice Tosa finished second on the team for the first time this year, taking 27th overall with a time of 23:27. Fellow sophomore Timmie Murphy was close behind in 30th with a time of 23:38. True freshman Riann Lucy was the fourth Lobo to cross the line, finishing 37th with a time of 24:09, while senior Brooke Gosling placed 49th (25:01) to cap the UNM scoring.
"As a coach, I always think that there's room for improvement, but I'm really pleased with the effort we gave today," said Henry. "Sarah Gonzales really had a spring in her step today. She ran the best race of career today and I'm just so proud of what she's been able to do these past four years. She's just a great story."
On the men's side, senior stalwart Sean Flaherty paced New Mexico for the fifth straight meet as the Lobos kept fifth place Wyoming at bay, 123-137. Flaherty completed the 8,000-meter course in 25:51 to finish 18th. UNM grouped well, as sophomore Brandon Vigil (26th - 26:30), freshmen Juan Ortega (28th - 26:34) and Stephen Martinez (32nd - 27:01), and junior Nate Clem (34th - 27:05) all finished within 1:14 of Flaherty.
"We didn't have our best race today on the men's side and I think we were actually pretty lucky to hold onto fourth," said Henry. "But going into the meet, we thought fourth place was a realistic goal, considering the talent in this conference (No. 9 Air Force, No. 10 BYU, No. 12 CSU), and that's just where we ended up."
New Mexico will get a week off from competition before heading to Ogden, Utah for the NCAA Mountain Region Championships on November 15.