ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — This weekend is the first one in five weeks that the New Mexico track and field team isn’t competing.
But three Lobo individuals are.
University of New Mexico track and field athletes Ridge Jones, Kendall Spencer and Warrick Campbell are competing at the USA Indoor Track & Field Championships this weekend as they aim to prove themselves on one the biggest stages in stateside track and field.
Jones (entered in the 60-meter dash), Spencer (long jump) and Campbell (triple jump) all are right in the thick of their indoor seasons for the Lobos and will look to parlay their performances this weekend into experience for the future.
“It’s huge,” UNM assistant coach Austin Brobst said. “Ridge and Warrick have never experienced anything like this, really, because it’s very similar to the national championships. So for them, I’d say it’s a taste of a national championship. And then for Kendall, it’s just a refresher of the national championships because it’s set up very similar.”
With the Mountain West Championships next weekend, Feb. 27-March 1, and the Albuquerque- and UNM-hosted NCAA Championships March 14-15, all three Lobos have the opportunity to gain experience vs. some of the nation’s top athletes.
“It’s just a chance for them to get their feet wet, and also it’s just good preparation for conference,” Brobst said.
They also won’t have to travel far for their competition, either, with the Albuquerque Convention Center serving as host for the USATF Indoor Championships for the fifth consecutive year.
But, home-field (and home-track) advantage notwithstanding, it’s a caliber of competition that is largely unfamiliar to these Lobos.
Spencer, the 2012 NCAA champion in the indoor long jump, has experience in some of the premier meets in the United States, including the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
The senior from San Mateo, Calif., enters the meet with a seed mark of 25 feet, 1 ¼ inches (7.65 meters), which is the 11th-best mark in the 16-athlete field. That mark is also tops in the Mountain West and 14th in the NCAA.
However, his personal-record (and school-record) mark indoors is 26-3 ½ (8.01 meters), the mark with which he won the 2012 NCAA title. It’s a distance he hasn’t matched since indoors, but he has been on an upward trend in 2014.
“Kendall has never jumped this far [25-1 ¼] this early,” Brobst said. “So for him, it’s getting back up that point in 2012 when things were going his way.”
He jumps at 12:15 p.m. on Saturday.
Campbell is another athlete looking to continue trending in the right direction.
After not competing last year, the Albuquerque senior leaped 52 feet (15.85 meters) in the triple jump in January, a new personal record. That mark also ranked first in the MW, 18th in the NCAA and fourth in school history.
He has the seventh-best seed mark in the field of 10, and could potentially move up more in the national rankings should he better his mark when he competes Sunday at 1:10 p.m.
“What we’re hoping to get is just improving marks and rankings in the NCAAs,” Brobst said.
Jones is the final athlete entered, and, like his teammates, has his eyes on improving his time.
The football player/sprinter heads the meet with a personal best in the 60 of 6.70 seconds (converted from 6.68 for altitude), which leads the NCAA — Division I, II and III included — for all football players.
His mark is the second-best mark all-time at UNM, and is tied first in the Mountain West and ranks 25th in the nation (for track athletes).
“For him, it’s a huge testament to one of two things,” Brobst said. “I’d say [one is] our relationship with football because right now he’s the fastest 60. … And his ability to be a standout dual-sport athlete and establish himself as that [is the second].”
The DeSoto, Texas, sophomore enters with the 17th-fastest mark out of the 23 declared athletes and is the only collegiate athlete that has declared. The first round of the men’s 60 is Saturday at 1 p.m., with semifinals Sunday at 11:35 a.m. and finals Sunday at 2:38 p.m.
It’s the second straight year that New Mexico has had a current athlete competing. Last year, women’s hurdler Holly Van Grinsven placed 15th in the 60 hurdles. A few years earlier, De’Vron Walker also competed.
A New Mexico graduate and former assistant coach will also participate, as Alesha Walker returns to Albuquerque to compete in the long jump. She competed for UNM from 2007-11 and helped coach the Lobo jumpers until 2013. She currently coaches at Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.
Walker, UNM’s indoor and outdoor record holder in the long jump, has jumped at the last two USATF Indoor Championships. She currently has the 11th-best mark, 20-6 ½ (6.26 meters), in the field.