Sept. 9, 2003
University of New Mexico men's and women's cross country teams open their 2003 season in the heart of Lobo country this weekend when they host the Lobo Invitational on Saturday, Sept. 13 at the UNM North Golf Course. The meet will be one of the biggest cross country events held in the state of New Mexico this year with 13 collegiate teams (including Colorado State, Fort Lewis, LSU, New Mexico State, Texas-Pan American, Texas Tech, UTEP and Western State) and 21 state high school squads set to toe the line on Saturday morning. The day's action gets underway with four high school races, beginning at 8 a.m. (MST), followed by the collegiate competition at 9:20. Admission is free for all ages.
Complete information and results from the 2003 UNM Lobo Invitational can be found on the University of New Mexico official athletic department website:
UNM Lobo Invitational: www.golobos.com
LOBO INVITATIONAL HISTORY
This season marks the fourth running of the UNM Lobo Invitational under head coach Matt Henry. After a six-year absence, Henry brought NCAA cross country competition back to Albuquerque with the 2000 Lobo Invitational, which was also held at the North Golf Course. UNM's men and women each placed third out of five teams before the meet was moved to the Paradise Hills Golf Course in Northwest Albuquerque in 2001. Both Lobo squads finished second, behind the Air Force, in a four-team field. New Mexico's Sarah Gonzales provided the highlight of the day with her wire-to-wire victory in the women's race.
Last year's competition was a preview of the elite 2002 NCAA Mountain Region Championship meet, which was also held at the UNM North Golf Course on Nov. 16. Five members of the 18-team Mountain Region, which is arguably the premier cross country grouping in the country, were represented at the meet. New Mexico's Cameron Clarke finished second to lead the Lobo men to an impressive 21-point victory over the field. Jacquelyne Gallegos had a career-best second place finish to help the UNM women finish second.
SCOUTING THE COLLEGIATE FIELD
Division II national powerhouse Western State headlines the 13-team collegiate field at the 2003 Lobo Invitational. Last year, the Western men captured their fourth consecutive D-II title, while the women won their third in a row. The Mountaineers also swept the team titles in their last trip to Albuquerque for the 2000 Lobo Invite.
The Mountain West Conference preseason No. 2 Colorado State men and women will also bolster the field. The CSU men finished 27th at the 2002 national championship meet after edging the Lobos for the final at-large bid at the NCAA Mountain Region Championships in Albuquerque. The Rams were ranked 23rd in the preseason Mondo Men's NCAA Cross Country Poll.
In-state squads from Eastern New Mexico, New Mexico Highlands, New Mexico State and SIPI will be in attendance, along with three teams from the Lone Star state (Texas Tech, Texas-Pan American, UTEP). The LSU Tigers will also make the trip west for the third straight year. Runners from Dine College in Tsaile, Ariz. and Fort Lewis in Durango, Colo. round out the collegiate field.
8:00 a.m. - Junior Varsity Girls (5,000m)
8:20 a.m. - Junior Varsity Boys (5,000m)
8:40 a.m. - Varsity Girls (5,000m)
9:00 a.m. - Varsity Boys (5,000m)
9:20 a.m. - Collegiate Women (6,000m)
9:50 a.m. - Collegiate Men (8,000m)
10:15 a.m. - C Team Girls
11:00 a.m. - C Team Boys
High School Teams: (21) Albuquerque HS, Bloomfield, Cibola, Cuba, Eldorado, Highland, Hope Christian, La Cueva, Los Alamos, Manzano, McCurdy, Menaul, Navajo Prep, Pedro Vista, Pojoaque, Ruidoso, Sandia, Santa Fe, St. Michaels, Tohatchi, Valley
(the golf course is located near the corner of Yale Blvd. and Tucker Rd. on the UNM North Campus)
(from I-25) Take Lomas exit and head east, towards the mountains, on Lomas Blvd. Turn left on Yale Blvd. and continue north before turning right on Tucker Rd. The golf course clubhouse and parking lot will be on the left.
(from I-25 south) Take Lomas exit and turn left, heading east on Lomas Blvd. Turn left on Yale Blvd. and continue north before turning right on Tucker Rd. The golf course clubhouse and parking lot will be on the left.
(from I-40) Exit I-25 south then take Lomas exit and head east, towards the mountains, on Lomas Blvd. Turn left on Yale Blvd. and continue north before turning right on Tucker Rd. The golf course clubhouse and parking lot will be on the left.
2003 UNM SEASON OUTLOOK
In just three short years, Matt Henry has changed the face of cross country at the University of New Mexico. In the fall of 2000, Henry and his brother, associate head coach Mark Henry, took the reigns of the dormant program and began to breathe life back into Lobo cross country.
In 2001, three young UNM runners competed at the NCAA Championships, including All-American Matt Gonzales. Then, just two years after his arrival, Matt Henry had his Lobo men challenging the nation's best in 2002. New Mexico opened the season with three straight victories en route to a No. 27 national ranking. UNM dropped out of the national top-30 following a series of midseason injuries to most if its top five runners, but rallied back to finish third at the Mountain West Conference Championships and seventh at the NCAA Mountain Region Championships. While the Lobos fell six painful points shy of at at-large team bid to the NCAA Championships, Gonzales finished eighth at the Mountain Region meet to secure his place in the national field for the second straight year.
Meanwhile, the UNM women also appeared primed to surge up the MWC standings before being stung by the injury bug. In addition to an early season-ending injury to 2001 NCAA qualifier Jacquelyne Gallegos, veteran Sarah Gonzales and promising newcomer Karina Hill-Hurtado also missed significant amounts of time due to various ailments.
Despite the unfortunate wave of injuries, the continued improvement of the program was undeniable. Now entering his fourth year at the helm of his alma mater, Henry will look to continue to build the program in 2003.
"I've changed my philosophy about training them early in the year. The last few years we opened training with an interval session, but we're not going to do that anymore. We're really not going to do any serious training until after our home meet. We've also eliminated our usual season-opener in El Paso, so they'll have a couple weeks to get everything together on the cross country course and in the classroom as well."
After laboring in obscurity for nearly a decade, the Lobo men's team created a buzz once again among national cross country coaches in 2002. New Mexico was ranked as high as 27th in the country (Oct. 1) following its victory at the Stanford Invitational, but fell from the top-30 after injuries to three of its top five runners limited the squad's effort at the Pre-National Invitational (Oct. 19).
In the midst of the storm of injuries, however, New Mexico stood tall and refused to break. After nearly stunning the Mountain Regional field to earn a automatic bid to the NCAA Championships, the Lobos turned their eyes and focused on the future. While the face of the team will be quite different this fall, Henry's pride, commitment and passion for distance running in the state of New Mexico will keep the Lobos in the hunt once again.
This year, Henry will be facing one of his biggest challenges 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 will give somebody an opportunity to step up, run and grow this year," said Henry. "We may take some licks this year, but I think next season we'll be more experienced, stronger and hopefully healthier because of this."
With Gonzales, Martinez, Ortega and Clarke sidelined, Henry will look to senior Sean Flaherty (Albuquerque, N.M.) to carry the UNM flag. A steady performer over the past three years after joining the team as a walk-on near the end of the 2000 season, Flaherty will be counted on to step up and take on a bigger role in 2003. After running sixth on the team much of last year, Henry said he is looking for the Manzano High School product to take a big step forward to lead the team this fall.
"I think we lose sight of Sean, but he's had a great summer," said Henry. "His role this year will be much greater than it ever has before, but he's capable of stepping up and doing it."
UNM lost a pair of solid top seven contributors in Chad Dawson and Jeremy Johnson, but Henry said several up-and-coming Lobos will have an opportunity to make a name for themselves this fall. Junior Nate Clem (Albuquerque, N.M.) returns for his second year of cross country competition, while seniors Chris Rogers (Albuquerque, N.M.) and Leighton Katsuda (Wailuku, Hawai'i) provides a veteran presence. Fearless sophomore Brandon Vigil (Taos, N.M.), who scored in two meets in 2002, leads a group of promising young runners who will carry the scoring load this year.
Chris Bratton (Manzano HS), Stephen Martinez (Pojoaque, N.M.) and Juan Ortega (Albuquerque, N.M.) are three of four incoming freshman who should step up and contribute right away. Bratton was the 5A runner-up at the 2002 state cross country meet, while Martinez, the younger brother of senior Nick, was a two-time New Mexico state cross country champion at Pojoaque High School. Ortega represented Rio Grande High School at three straight state meets and should be a factor as well. Sophomore Travis Griego (Albuquerque, N.M.), who attended UNM but did not run with the Lobos last year, led Manzano High School to a 2001 state title and should contend for a top-seven spot.
"I think that's eventually going to be the strength of our team," said Henry. "Everybody is going to have a chance to be a contributor this fall depending on how much time they put in over the summer."
The UNM women got off to a solid start of their own last fall, finishing second in their first two meets, before being hit hard by injuries. 2001 NCAA qualifier Jacquelyne Gallegos (Pojoaque, N.M.) was seriously injured in a car accident, following a career-best second place finish in the team's second meet of the year. Meanwhile, veteran runner Sarah Gonzales (Albuquerque, N.M.) was sidelined until late September after being hospitalized with a nasty case of food poisoning. Gonzales returned to lead the Lobos in the final five meets of the year, but was never able to completely shake her season-long wave of illness. Junior college transfer Amanda Swann (Clovis, N.M.) gutted out the 2002-03 cross country and track seasons, but will not run this fall after finally undergoing surgery to alleviate the pain caused by the plantar fasciaitis in both feet.
Fortunately for New Mexico, both Gallegos and Gonzales return to lead the women's side this season. Although the NCAA denied her request for a medical redshirt sophomore year, Gallegos, will be looking to complete her stunning recovery from a broken back and pelvis with a strong junior campaign. According to Henry, the Pojoaque native enjoyed a fine summer of training and is anxious to toe the line once again.
"Jackie's probably going to come back this year in better shape than she ever has," Henry said. "She's had a great summer and I sure hope that she can have a great season for us and for herself. She needs to erase the bad memories of what happened last year."
The only three-year letterwinner on the women's side, Gonzales will look to cap her Cinderella career in style with a possible berth in the NCAA Championship field. An unheralded walk-on as a freshman, the 5-1 Gonzales has used her powerful work ethic and sheer determination to develop into one of the Lobos' best and most consistent runners. After missing the first two races of the season and being hampered by laryngitis in the season-finale, Gonzales still managed to record the Lobos' three fastest 6K times and finished 16th at the MWC Championships.
"Her high school career was really nothing to talk about, but she walked on here and really found herself in her running," said Henry. "To me she's been a dream come true."
Improving sophomores Karina Hill-Hurtado (Albuquerque, N.M.), Timmie Murhpy (Farmington, N.M.) and Janice Tosa (Jemez Pueblo, N.M.), as well as junior Vanessa Funston (Albuquerque, N.M.), will all look to solidify the top five this fall. Hill-Hurtado, Murphy and Tosa each made an immediate impact last fall, consistently scoring among the top five as true freshmen. Funston, meanwhile, was a fixture in the top seven last year and will look to solidify the varsity squad once again this season.
Henry said that he believes promising freshmen Riann Lucy (Albuquerque, N.M.) and Myrriah Gomez (Pojoaque, N.M.) should also make an impact in their collegiate debuts. Both athletes were among the top cross country talents in the state of New Mexico last year. Lucy finished fifth at the state cross country meet, then went on to capture city, district and state titles in the 800 to lead Cibola High School to its first 5A track championship. The diminutive Gomez, meanwhile, helped Pojoaque High School capture three 3A state titles and was a three-time all-state honoree.
"I'm excited about this season and about the opportunity to have some new people compete on both the men's and women's sides," said Henry. "I really believe we have the people to do it. We have the talent to be pretty good this year."
Though there has been the occasional bump in the road, even Matt Henry admits he's sometimes amazed by the progress the Lobo cross country program has made. "To tell you the truth about it, I never really dreamed we could be this far along," Henry said following the 2002 season. "We're doing good, but we have to keep working hard and do a better job of taking care of ourselves."
Henry has continued to build the UNM program by using his greatest natural resource: New Mexico high school distance runners. Of the 31 runners on the 2003 opening day 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.
"I'm proud of New Mexico and I'm proud of New Mexico's kids," said Henry. "I've always thought that if we can keep most of our New Mexico kids at home, we can have a big impact nationally."
As the UNM program continues to develop behind the efforts of Henry's homegrown runners, more and more athletes are looking to Albuquerque as the premier destination for the top distance running talent in the state of New Mexico. With built in advantages in weather, altitude training and one of the top home meet environments in the Southwest, it's easy to see why the University of New Mexico and elite distance running are synonymous.