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Lobos Run For NCAA Berth At Mountain Region Championships
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  11/11/2003
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

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Nov. 11, 2003

UPCOMING

The University of New Mexico men's and women's cross country teams will battle for a berth in the NCAA Championship field when they journey to Riverdale, Utah for the NCAA Mountain Region Cross Country Championships (hosted by Weber State University) on Saturday, Nov. 15. The competition at Schneiter's Riverside Golf Course opens with the men's 10,000-meter race at 11 a.m. (MST), followed by the women's 6K at 12:15.

The top two teams (seven person teams) at each regional championship meet automatically qualify for the 2003 NCAA Cross Country Championships (Nov. 24) in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Thirteen additional at-large teams and will be selected on Nov. 18 by the NCAA Championship committee. From each regional championship meet, the first four individuals not on a qualifying team automatically advance to the finals. Two additional qualifiers will be selected at-large based on the highest non-qualifying finish in regional championship meets. All individual qualifiers must finish in the top 25 in their region.

MEET INFORMATION/RESULTS

Complete information and results from the NCAA Mountain Region Championships can be found on the official website of the Weber State University athletic department:

NCAA Mountain Region Championships

SCOUTING THE MOUNTAIN REGION FIELD

The Mountain Region is home to arguably the premier distance talent in the country. Four of the nations top 10-ranked teams compete in the region (No. 3 Colorado, No. 5 Northern Arizona, No. 8 Air Force and No. 10 BYU), while Colorado State is 17th and host Weber State is ranked 34th. The women's side is just as formidable with two-time defending champion BYU currently ranked second, followed by No. 6 Colorado, No. 10 NAU, No. 22 CSU and 27th-ranked Nevada.

Overall, 17 men's and 18 women's teams will be in action on Saturday with the University of Denver, Idaho State University, University of Montana, Montana State University, New Mexico State University, Southern Utah University, University of Texas-El Paso, Texas Tech University, University of Utah, Utah State University and University of Wyoming rounding out the field.

UNM AT THE MOUNTAIN REGION CHAMPIONSHIPS

Since taking over the program at New Mexico in 2000, head coach Matt Henry has qualified four athletes (2001: Matt Gonzales, Ben Ortega, Jacquelyne Gallegos. 2002: Matt Gonzales) to the NCAA Championship meet and just missed sending his first team to nationals last year. The following is a list of the Lobos' performances at the Mountain Region Championships under Henry.

MEN

2000: 12th/17 (298 pts.) Top Runner: Ben Ortega - 26th

2001: 9th/17 (189 pts.) Top Runner: Matt Gonzales - 9th

2002: 7th/18 (186 pts.) Top Runner: Matt Gonzales - 8th

WOMEN

2000: 14th/17 (344 pts.) Top Runner: Ashley Othick - 34th

2001: 12th/18 (332 pts.) Top Runner: Jacquelyne Gallegos - 19th

2002: 15th/17 (417 pts.) Top Runner: Sarah Gonzales - 74th

A LOOK BACK AT THE '02 NCAA MOUNTAIN REGION CHAMPIONSHIPS

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- University of New Mexico junior Matt Gonzales finished eighth to lead the Lobo men's team to a tight seventh place finish on on Nov. 16 at the NCAA Mountain Region Cross Country Championships at the UNM North Golf Course. New Mexico moved up two spots from its 2001 regional finish, but was not given the at-large bid in had hoped for when the NCAA Championship field was annouced two days later.

UNM, which was receiving votes in the latest national poll, knocked off No. 26 Utah State, but fell six painful points shy of upending No. 15 Colorado State. A victory over the Rams would have likely ensured UNM's at-large bid to the national meet on Nov. 25 in Terre Haute, Ind. New Mexico hasn't sent a team to the national meet since 1988 men's team automatically qualified.

Gonzales, who has been slowed for the past few weeks by a painful Achilles injury, bettered his 2001 regional meet time by nearly a minute (30:36) and edged Utah's Delfino Arevalo for eighth, one spot higher than 2001, with a lean at the finish line. With his performance the Santa Fe, N.M. native guaranteed himself a spot in the NCAA Championship field, in which he finished 30th and garnered All-America honors last fall.

Sophomore Cameron Clarke improved 22 spots to finish 31st overall (31:05), but was unable to reel in CSU's top-finisher, Josh Glaab, who finished three seconds ahead in 30th. Junior Ben Ortega turned in a courageous performance, finishing 37th overall (31:18). An automatic NCAA qualifier last season, Ortega had been riddled with a series of injuries over the past month and had not raced since Sept. 28. Fellow junior Nick Martinez, who had not competed with the Lobos' top seven at the 2001 regional meet, finished a solid 51st (31:51), while battered freshman Jeremy Johnson was 59th (31:59) to round out the Lobo scoring. Sophomores Sean Flaherty and Chad Dawson were 72nd and 81st, respectively, in the 114-man field.

Despite a tremendous effort, the young New Mexico women's team dropped two spots from its 2001 finish to take 14th overall. After being weakened by a week-long bout of illness, junior Sarah Gonzales placed 74th overall (23:11), 32 spots lower than the year before. Gonzales was followed by a pair of true freshman in Janice Tosa (78th) and Timmie Murphy (84th), while sophomores Vanessa Funston (97th) and Racquel Ricci wrapped up the Lobo scoring.

Top-ranked Brigham Young University cruised to another NCAA Mountain Region Women's Cross Country title, while Northern Arizona upended No. 3 Colorado for the men's championship on Saturday morning at the University of New Mexico North Golf Course in Albuquerque. BYU junior Michaela Manova was the women's individual winner, just one second ahead of sophomore Ida Nilsson of NAU. Meanwhile, CU senior Jorge Torres defended his Mountain Region title in impressive fashion with a dominating wire-to-wire victory.

The defending national champion Cougar women placed all five scoring runners in the top-10 to finish with a score of 29 points, 37 ahead of Colorado's third-ranked women. The Buffaloes earned the second NCAA Championship automatic qualifying spot with 66 points. Northern Arizona (90), Colorado State (99) and Weber State (105) finished a tight third, fourth and fifth, respectively. The top-five order of finish was unchanged from the 2001 Mountain Regional meet.

On the men's side, freshman Nurani Sheikh and junior Travis Laird finished fifth and sixth, respectively, to help lead Northern Arizona to a 19-point victory over defending regional champ Colorado. Paced by Torres and his brother Eduardo (3rd), the Buffaloes held off No. 11 BYU (93-99) for the second automatic qualifying spot.

FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH

Sean Flaherty will return in 2004 to bolster what will be a highly talented, veteran New Mexico men's team next fall. The results of the 2000 Lobo Invitational listed Flaherty as the eighth finishing runner for UNM in what was his only official appearance of the year. According to head coach Matt Henry, however, Flaherty, who was redshirting the 2000 season, was inaccurately listed on the final results. Flaherty, now listed as a two-year letterman junior, never competed for UNM as a true freshman and thus will return next fall as a fifth-year senior.

NEW MEXICO QUICK HITS

* Junior Sean Flaherty has led the Lobo men in all five meets this fall and has recorded second place finishes in his two races...the Lobos have been a tight group, with the scoring runners finishing less than a minute apart in three of five meets this year...UNM had a sub-minute pack spread just twice in six meets in 2002...senior Leighton Katsuda and junior Nate Clem have combined to score in eight meets this fall after failing to score in any meets in '02...true freshmen Stephen Martinez and Juan Ortega have each scored three times this fall, while sophomore Brandon Vigil has been the team's second runner the past two meets.

* Senior Sarah Gonzales has paced the women in the last three meets and notched her second career victory at the Canyon West Classic on Oct. 18...three different women led the squad in its first three races of the season...with her seventh place finish at the MWC Championships, Gonzales became the first Lobo woman to earn all-conference honors since Tangi Galloway finished 14th to garner second team honors at the 1996 Western Athletic Conference Championships...due to injuries, talented junior Jacquelyne Gallegos (2) and promising sophomore Karina Hill-Hurtado (0) have finished a combined two races this fall...true freshman Riann Lucy has run no lower than fourth on the team in five meets, while fellow freshman Myrriah Gomez and first year senior Brooke Gosling, a member of the UNM Nordic ski team, have each scored in a combined five meets.

LOBOS' LAST TIME OUT

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- Senior Sarah Gonzales finished seventh to lead the University of New Mexico women to a fifth place finish on Nov. 1 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.

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.

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.

On the men's side, junior 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.

HAIL TO THE VICTORS

In the five years prior to Matt Henry's arrival as head cross country coach at New Mexico, the Lobo men's team had notched just one meet victory. However, since Henry took control of the program in 2000, the men have captured eight team titles, including two this year.

Last fall the men of New Mexico opened the season undefeated through three meets (UNM did not field a full team in its fourth meet, the Cowboy Jamboree) before finishing 17th at the Pre-National Invitational. After opening with another dominating win at the Lori Fitzgerald, UNM followed with a victory over a 12-team field in their home-opener, the UNM Lobo Invitational, then notched an impressive first place finish ahead of 29 teams at the 29th annual Stanford Invitational.

The Lobo women have also gotten into the act, earning their first team title under Henry at the Canyon West Cross Country Classic on Oct. 18. New Mexico scored a season-low 31 points to pick up its first win since the 1998 season-opener at UTEP.

THEY'LL BE BACK

Head coach Matt Henry faced one of his biggest challenges this year after opting to redshirt four team leaders in seniors Matt Gonzales (Santa Fe, N.M.), Nick Martinez (Pojoaque, N.M.), Ben Ortega (Taos, N.M.) and junior Cameron Clarke (Albuquerque, N.M.) this fall.

After enduring a six-month indoor and outdoor track season, capped by his All-America performance in the 10,000 meters at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, Henry said he decided to let Gonzales take some well-deserved time off from competition. A two-time cross country All-American and all-MWC performer, Gonzales also took some personal time off this summer to spend with his family after the passing of his father.

Ortega, meanwhile, was an all-MWC honoree and NCAA Championship competitor in 2001, but was slowed considerably by leg injuries after a strong start to the 2002 season. Nagging injuries continued to hamper Ortega's training over the summer and eventually made the redshirt decision a logical choice.

Since arriving at UNM with Henry in 2000, Martinez has been a fixture among the Lobos' top-five. After competing in six meets last fall, followed by a long indoor/outdoor track season, Henry said he thought Martinez would benefit from sitting out the 2003 campaign to refresh himself on and off the cross country course.

After claiming first team all-MWC honors in 2002, Clarke appears to have a bright future ahead of him. A standout at Sandia High School, the 5-11 Clarke picked up his first career win at the UNM Lobo Invitational last year, then scorched the field at the elite Stanford Invitational for his second victory in the following meet. Injuries forced Clarke out of the Pre-National Invitational and hampered him in the Mountain Region meet, but Henry said he expects him to be something special in 2004.

"We're redshirting four very solid runners, but this has given some of our younger runners an opportunity to step up, run and grow this year," said Henry. "I think next season we'll be more experienced, stronger and hopefully healthier because of this."

ROOKIE RUNNERS

Several fresh faces on the New Mexico men's and women's cross country teams are gaining valuable experience this fall. Ten runners have made their collegiate debuts, including six true freshmen. In addition, four runners on the men's and women's sides are beginning their second year of collegiate competition.

Head coach Matt Henry said he hopes this core of young runners will provide a valuable foundation for the future of the program. On the men's side, the eight first and second-year runners should give the team tremendous depth when redshirting veterans Cameron Clarke, Matt Gonzales, Nick Martinez and Ben Ortega return to action.

HOMEGROWN LOBOS

University of New Mexico head coach Matt Henry has built the UNM program by using his greatest natural resource: New Mexico high school distance runners. Of the 31 runners on the 2003 roster, all but two are products of New Mexico high schools. All three of the Lobos' 2001 NCAA competitors (All-American Matt Gonzales, Ben Ortega, Jacquelyne Gallegos), as well as 2002 first team all-MWC honoree Cameron Clarke, are from the Land of Enchantment.

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