Feb. 26, 2005
COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. - University of New Mexico senior Matt Gonzales' final indoor track season was all too simple - one race, one conference title. Running his first individual race of 2005, Gonzales clocked an altitude-adjusted time of 8:11.96 to win the 3,000 meters today at the Mountain West Conference Indoor Track and Field Championships. Gonzales' first career indoor title capped a strong meet for the Lobo men's team, which finished fifth with 67 points, the team's highest score in 15 years.
The Lobos finished just 11 points shy of fourth place Wyoming, while No. 21 BYU held off 18th-ranked Colorado State 207-203.50 to win its fifth MWC title in six years. The UNM women finished with 31 points, an eight-point improvement on their 2004 score, but dropped one spot to finish seventh overall. No. 15 BYU won its sixth straight Mountain West indoor title, while Colorado State was second with 172 points.
Gonzales, a native of Santa Fe, capped a tremendous performance by the Lobos' Northern New Mexico runners, which dominated the men's long distance events over the weekend. Taos native Ben Ortega set the early tone with his sensational victory in the 5,000 on Friday, giving the Lobos a clean sweep of the two longest races on the track.
Senior Amanda Barnes capped her own stellar meet performance by earning all-MWC honors for the second straight year in the shot put, placing second with a season-best toss of 49-04.50. Barnes is the only UNM woman ever to place among the top three in the indoor shot put, a feat she first accomplished last year (third).
One of the best New Mexico performances of the meet, however, was that turned in by indoor junior Derek Mackel on Saturday. Mackel became the first Lobo ever to earn all-MWC honors in the men's pole vault, placing third with a career-best clearance of 17-05.50 on his third and final attempt at the height. The former Albuquerque Sandia High School standout improved his previous best by 4.5 inches, matching nationally-ranked Paul Gensic of Air Force for second. Gensic, however, earned official runner-up status after clearing the bar on his first attempt. Each of the top-five finishers in the event surpassed the NCAA provisional qualifying standard.
Mackel's effort was the best by a UNM athlete indoors since three-time All-American Simon Arkell set the school record of 18-01.50 in 1991. Ranked fourth in the MWC and 24th in the nation entering the meet, Mackel's clearance may have been good enough to secure his berth in the NCAA Championship meet field. UNM has not sent a men's competitor to the NCAA Indoor Championships since 1991.
Back on the track, senior Cameron Clarke made his indoor finale something to remember, finishing a close second in the 800 meters to earn all-conference honors for the first time in his career. The league's fourth-ranked 800 competitor entering the meet, Clarke just missed the gold medal in a photo finish ending. His altitude adjusted time of 1:53.5 was 0.15 seconds behind Wyoming senior Jeremy Johnson and exactly 0.15 seconds ahead of the third place finisher, Jason Dorais of BYU.
In other event finals, senior Ahmed Raji finished seventh in the 60 meters (7.06), but was disqualified in the 200. Freshmen Jarrin Solomon and Ariel Burr each scored in their first MWC 400 competition. Solomon placed eighth in the men's race (49.35), while 14th-ranked Burr finished seventh in the women's competition with a time of 56.91. Sophomore Riann Lucy repeated her 2004 performance in the 800, finishing sixth overall with an altitude adjusted time of 2:16.39.
Freshman Shadrack Kiptoo-Biwott and sophomore Mike Smiel each scored in the men's mile for the first time in their careers, placing sixth and eighth respectively. Kiptoo-Biwott clocked an altitude adjusted time of 4:09.61 while Smiel crossed the line in 4:11.97. UNM triple jumpers Domnick Meadows and Jai McBride also scored for the first time in their young careers. Meadows, a freshman, placed eighth in the men's competition with a season-best mark of 46-02.00 on his first jump, while the sophomore McBride was eighth in the women's event with a personal record leap of 37-07.75. The men's and women's mile relay teams capped the day with fifth and seventh place finish, respectively.
New Mexico junior Jacquelyne Gallegos was conspicuously absent from the medals podium over the weekend after being struck by a stomach virus on Friday. One of the Lobos' top threats on the track, Gallegos was the league's second ranked 3,000-meter competitor and a strong all-conference candidate in the 5,000 as well. After struggling to a ninth place finish in the 5K on Friday morning, her illness grew worse throughout the day. Although weakened and slightly dehydrated, Gallegos pushed through her 3K on Saturday, finishing nearly a minute slower than her career best in 21st place.
UNM head coach Matt Henry and his staff will eagerly await the official announcement from the NCAA Championships committee next week to see if any of the Lobos' provisional qualifiers will be admitted into the national field. The 2005 NCAA Indoor Track and Field Championships will be held in Fayetteville, Ark., March 10-12.