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The National Championship Quest Begins
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  06/07/2004
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

June 7, 2004

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UPCOMING

For the third-straight year, two athletes will represent the University of New Mexico on the national stage as senior Mark Johnson and junior Matt Gonzales travel to Austin, Texas this week for the 2004 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships. Gonzales, a 2003 All-American in the event, will enter the meet as the top-seeded competitor in the 10,000-meter race, which is scheduled to start at 9 p.m. (MST) on Thursday, June 10. Johnson, meanwhile, will be making his national championship debut in the decathlon on Friday and Saturday, June 11-12. The Fontana, Wisc. native opens competition at 11:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., respectively, each day at Mike A. Myers Stadium.

For the third-straight year, two UNM athletes will compete at the national championship meet. This is the first year, under Matt Henry, that UNM has sent two men's athletes. From 1997-2000, hammer thrower Steven Dunbar (1998,2000) was the Lobos' lone NCAA competitor on either the men's and women's side. Since Henry took over the program in 2001, four different athletes have competed in three-straight NCAA meets: (heptathlete Keren Sari-Bentzur - '02, '03, high jumper Kelli Myers - '02, Gonzales - '03, '04, Johnson - '04).

Both Johnson and Gonzales will enter the outdoor championships on a roll after a solid weekend of competition. Johnson, who entered the meet ranked 17th, soared a career-best 16-05.25 to finish tied for ninth in the pole vault at the Midwest Regional Championships. Gonzales, who was the Midwest region's second-ranked 5,000 runner, opted instead to compete at the elite Payton Jordan U.S. Open in Stanford, Calif. He went on to clock a school record time of 13:35.59 to finish eighth among a field of 31 professional 5K runners. Gonzales' time was also the fastest by a collegian, including all four NCAA regional champions, over the weekend. The following is Gonzales and Johnsons' event-by-event schedule at the national meet:

THURSDAY

9 p.m. - No. 1 Matt Gonzales (10,000m)

FRIDAY

No. 22 Mark Johnson (decathlon)

11:30 a.m. - 100 meters

12:30 p.m. - Long Jump

1:45 p.m. - Shot Put

3 p.m. - High Jump

6:20 p.m. - 400 meters

SATURDAY

No. 22 Mark Johnson (decathlon)

11 a.m. - 110-meter Hurdles

12 p.m. - Discus

2:30 p.m. - Pole Vault

5 p.m. - Javelin

7 p.m. - 1,500 meters

Matt Gonzales NOTES

*After finishing third last year, Gonzales will attempt to become New Mexico's first outdoor national champion since Art Baxter captured the triple jump title in 1967. The Santa Fe native will also look to join Lobo legends Dick Howard (400m Hurdles - 1959) and Adolph Plummer (440 yards - 1961) as the only UNM runners to win an outdoor national title on the track. The New Mexico men captured three gold medals at the NCAA Indoor Championships during the 1970s. The UNM two-mile relay team earned the 1978 title, while Charles Dramiga and Michael Solomon won back-to-back 600-meter crowns in '76 in '77.

* In the history of UNM athletics, 17 athletes have captured 18 individual national titles. Track and field athletes accounted for the first eight individual titles in school history. Skier Jennifer Delich (giant slalom) is the only Lobo to win an NCAA event this year.

* Gonzales clocked a career-best and Mountain West Conference record 10K time of 28:22.77 on April 30 at Stanford to automatically qualify for the 2004 Outdoor Championships. Colorado's Dathan Ritzenhein and Ian Dobson of Stanford finished ahead of Gonzales on April 30 and were the only runners ranked ahead him during the season. Ritzenhein, however, has opted to run the 5,000 at the national championship meet, while Dobson will compete in the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Trackwire.com, however, has the No. 2 seed, Arizona's Robert Cheseret, and sixth-seeded Alistair Craig of Arkansas ranked ahead of Gonzales in its final "Dandy Dozen" rankings. Craig, a senior, finished second, 0.09 seconds behind teammate Dan Lincoln and six seconds ahead of Gonzales, in last year's NCAA 10K race.

*This will be Gonzales' first career appearance at Mike A. Myers Stadium in Austin. His top-5 career 10,000m times have all been run in the state of California (four at Stanford, one at Sacramento).

*Following the NCAA Championships, Gonzales will begin training for the 2004 U.S. Olympic Trials. Gonzales will travel to Sacramento, Calif. for the 10-day meet (July 9-18), where he is a qualifier in both the 10,000 and 5,000. Last year, he finished 11th in the 10,000 at the USA Track & Field Championships, despite running on just six days rest following his NCAA performance.

* Gonzales competed at both the 2001 and 2002 NCAA Cross Country Championship meets. He earned All-America laurels in by placing 30th in 2002, but fell early in the 2003 race and finished 156th. Gonzales was a Division II cross country All-American as a true freshman while competing at New Mexico Highlands University.

Johnson is the first UNM decathlete to compete at the national meet since 1985.


Mark Johnson NOTES

* Johnson, a provisional qualifier, had to hold his breath a bit before learning on May 31 that he had been selected for his first NCAA decathlon competition. The Fontana, Wisc. native is the first Lobo since Gary Kinder in 1985 to be selected to compete in the NCAA decathlon competition. Johnson turned in a clutch performance at the Mountain West Conference Championships, finishing second with a career-best score of 7,325 to secure his place in the national field. Johnson, who tallied 7,141 points in Austin earlier this year, is the 22nd-ranked athlete in the 26-man field.

* A 2004 first team Academic All-District VI selection, Johnson is a strong candidate for Academic All-America honors this year. He earned his MBA this past May in just four years, after graduating with a degree in Spanish in December of '02. Johnson posted a 3.85 undergrade GPA as a senior and a 4.0 GPA as a graduate student.

* Johnson originally began his Lobo career as soccer player before deciding to compete as a long and triple jumper for the track team. He was a two-year letterwinner at goalkeeper for the UNM men's soccer team, appearing in 6 games from 2000-01. Johnson started four games as a true freshman in 2000, posting a 2-2 record, 1 shutout and a 1.33 goals against average.

MEET INFORMATION/RESULTS

Complete information for the 2004 NCAA Outdoor Track & Field Championships will be available on the official website of the host University of Texas athletic department:

Official Site of the 2004 NCAA Championships

Live Event Results

LAST YEAR AT THE NCAA CHAMPIONSHIPS (Sacramento, Calif.)

University of New Mexico sophomore Matt Gonzales ran a career-best time of 28:26.88 to finish third, earning All-America honors, in the 10,000-meter finals late at night on June 12 at the 2003 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships at Hornet Stadium. The Santa Fe native kept himself in striking distance throughout the race and even led briefly. A cross country All-American in 2001, Gonzales is the first Lobo to earn All-America laurels since 1996 and the first man to do so since 1991.

The 5-5 Gonzales ran a strong, confident race throughout, never running out of the top-three. Midway through the race Gonzales, defending champion Boaz Cheboiywo of Eastern Michigan, and Arkansas runners Dan Lincoln and Alistair Craig separated themselves from the pack. The foursome jockeyed for position before Lincoln and Cragg surged forward, followed closely by Gonzales. Cheboiywo, the clear favorite entering the race, was unable to keep pace and eventually faded to 10th.

The Razorback duo powered forward one last time late in the race to finally pull just ahead of the New Mexico sophomore. Lincoln, a senior, edged the junior Craig by 0.09 seconds, clocking a winning time of 28:20.20, just six seconds ahead of Gonzales.

"We're so pleased with what Matt was able to accomplish," said UNM head coach Matt Henry. "He ran a terrific race and turned in his best time of the year. We're awfully proud of him and how he represented his state. He is proof of what New Mexico athletes can do on a national level and we hope we can give more New Mexico kids the same opportunity Matt has."

Gonzales is the second Lobo to earn All-America honors in the men's 10,000, joining Ibrahim Kivina (1984). Tangi Galloway was the last UNM All-American on the track, finishing fourth in the women's 10K in 1996. Simon Arkell was the last men's All-American, earning the honor for the third-straight year in the pole vault in 1991. Bill Managan was the last Lobo men's All-American on the track with his performance in the 5,000 meters in 1989.

Although not an ideal finish, senior Keren Sari-Bentzur concluded her stellar three-year career at the University of New Mexico by placing 22nd in the heptathlon two days later. Sari-Bentzur moved up three spots to finish with a score of 4,887. Sari-Bentzur struggled to get on track in her final competition, recording the lowest point total of her collegiate career.

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