March 14, 2007
UPDATE - The University of New Mexico opens the 2007 outdoor track and field season on Saturday in Tempe, Ariz. at Arizona State's Baldy Castillo Invitational. This will be the Lobos' first full team competition since Feb. 23 and their first trip to ASU under seventh-year head coach Matt Henry. Saturday's meet will feature a diverse field of nine collegiate teams including, Louisville, Washington State, Northern Arizona, Northern Illinois and the 2007 NCAA Indoor champion ASU women.
The weather forecast in Tempe on Saturday calls for sunny skies, highs in the mid-90s and light winds of 6 miles per hour. The meet opens with the field events at 1:30 p.m. (MDT), with the running events schedule to start at 6:30.
Henry recently sat down for a question and answer session as he prepares for his final spring at his alma mater. He and his twin brother, associate head coach Mark Henry, announced last month that they will retire from UNM at the end of the '07 outdoor season.
Question: Since you announced your retirement, has your perspective or approach to this upcoming outdoor season changed?
Matt Henry: I hope not. I hope we keep the same focus that we've always had. Again, I think we've done some nice things since we've been here, and I know we need to improve on a lot of things, but I hope things don't change one bit for us. We still get in the office at the same time, 7:30 in the morning, and I don't think we'll change that or slow down any until we're completely done.
Q: What would you say is the overall state of the outdoor track and field facilities at UNM right now?
MH: I think if we can get the stadium landscaped, I don't know if it wouldn't be one of the best around. We did sacrifice a little bit with the new track in that we got a great surface to train on, but I don't think it's going to be as fast as the old surface. The last track was really hard, which can lead to some fast times, but we never got to train on it. We've got a really nice track now and we can get our whole team out there training together on it, plus the facility is more friendly to track and field fans than it was. We've got the shot put and discus inside the stadium now, and we hope people will go over to the new jump and pole vault runways on the other side and watch those events from the bleachers we put in over there.
I've been told our new scoreboard could be ready by May. I wish we'd have it for our home meet (on April 28), but maybe we'll have it for the state meet and Great Southwest meets here, which are really important to me too.
We're also getting some very nice plaques installed at the stadium that commemorate all of our conference championship teams here at New Mexico. That's been a big wish for me too. I'd like people to be able to walk into the facility and be able to see our school records, conference championships and our program's history on a wall. I'm looking forward to that and I hope that can happen before we leave.
Again, once we get the stadium landscaped - wow, it's really going to be nice. I know (UNM athletics director) Paul Krebs has worked really hard to give all our facilities a facelift and I hope we might be able to get some more work done to our facility before the home meet.
Q: What's the status and health of your women's distance runners as outdoor competition gets underway?
MH: Timmie (Murphy) is back and I would say right now she's probably at about 70 percent. I know I'm going to race her at Stanford in two weeks and she's also going to run at ASU (this weekend), so we'll get a chance to see where she is there. She's thinking about doing a 10K this year as well, but I think we would wait until the Mt. SAC Relays (April 12) before you'd see her do that.
Leslie (Luna) is still hurt and unfortunately, it's just been one injury after another right now. It's really been discouraging for her and me both. She ran well in the conference cross country meet, then a week later got hurt and it's just compiled from there. She really wants to run and I'm hoping we can get her back. Running is a big part of her life and she and Timmie are really our top two (in the women's distance events).
Vanessa Ortiz has had some bad luck and she's been really sick too. It was probably been a little tougher transition for her from high school to college, in terms of the intensity of the work outs, but again, this is really a huge part of her life and she's super talented. She's really going to be somebody to look forward to.
I think Sheyenne Lewis is really starting to come around right now, so I'm excited about that. She looks much fitter than she's ever been and I'm hoping Sheyenne can help us a lot this spring.
Q: On the men's side, how pleased were you with what Jeremy Johnson was able to accomplish this past indoor season, despite running through that painful foot injury?
MH: Of course we all have problems, but if you looked at the bottom of his foot, you'd wonder how he could even step on it. I really think that hurt him a lot and we had to keep him out of some races to protect him, but Jeremy had a great indoor season and I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do outdoors. I think he has the range of being a pretty decent 1,500 guy - I think he could score at the conference meet if he wanted to do that - and I'm not sure on a good day that he couldn't win the 5,000 or the 10,000 at the conference meet. We're really concentrating on the 5,000 the most though. He's excited and we just need to get him in some bigger races so that he's more comfortable in those situations and will respond better.
Q: Through the cross country and indoor seasons Juan Ortega has established himself as the workhorse of your distance group - talk about his development this year.
MH: Indoors, I'd tell him "hey let's not run this week," but he wants to race as many times as possible. That's really unusual, but he feels that the more races he can get in, the better off he is. I admire him for that. You saw what he did at the conference (indoor) meet - he's the workhorse. I'm not real sure he's not the most improved athlete I've ever had - in my whole career. He was just a little, decent kind of a high school kid, but now to place fourth at the conference cross country championships - that's nuts.
Q: Joseph Garcia showed some promise in the 10K last year, what are his prospects for '07?
MH: Joe had a tough indoor season. He got really sick, even though he tried to run through it, but that might a blessing in disguise. He didn't tear himself up indoors and I think he'll start to come back outdoors and be ready for the conference meet when we need some points.
MH: They showed me a lot. I think both of them can go under 1:50 for sure when it's all said and done. They are really special runners and I'm looking for good things out of those guys this spring. (Volunteer coach) Margie (Hyman) has really helped me out a lot, giving us some great workout ideas for those guys.
I think you'll also see some good things out of Dylan Rose-Coss (in the middle distance events). He fell down (in the mile) at the (MWC) indoor championships, but I really thought he was on his way to his best race ever. I'm looking for him to surprise some people this spring.
Q: In the 400, you've got two of the best in the country in Jarrin Solomon and Ariel Burr. Both are coming off great indoor seasons and performances at the conference meet, but has the bar been raised for them to now make a name for themselves outdoors at the regional and national level?
MH: I think they keep raising it themselves every year. Jarrin had a good indoor season, but if you really watch his stride pattern - he's better outdoors, even though he's just 5-9. He's an outdoor runner and he's excited about it. I haven't had too many guys that have improved as much as Jarrin. He's a guy that really studies the sport and absolutely loves what he does, and I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do. I'm really proud of Ariel too and what she's done for the university. They both have their confidence up right now and people are talking about them as the ones to beat. With our schedule, we should be able to get them in a lot of big races this year and we really want to have a great regional meet this year."
MH: Since they don't compete indoors, they're both really anxious to get going outdoors. Both of them learned a lot last year - and to this day, I still think Katie should have been in the NCAA meet - but I think we'll see big things out of those guys. (Volunteer coach) Jeremy Graff has done a great job with them and he doesn't cut them any slack in workouts.
Q: What do you think the experience was like for Katie last year as she went from Ruidoso High School to going head-to-head against a two-time national champion in Air Force's Dana Pounds?
MH: That's great to be able to compete against the best in the United States, but I'm glad Dana is gone. Katie is going to be the best (in the MWC) this year and everybody is going to know that she's the one to beat in the conference. Again, I'm glad our New Mexico kids want to come to the University of New Mexico. She might've been closer to her family had she gone to New Mexico State or Texas Tech, but we're really glad she wanted to be a Lobo.
Q: Tiyana Peters jump-started your team by winning the high jump at the MWC Indoor Championships - can she keep it going outdoors?
MH: That was exciting. Tiy has been a little up and down and she's been battling an Achilles injury, so we've been very careful with her. I think she made a statement though (at the indoor championships). She said that she's better than what she had been doing and she proved it. I hope she can continue with that enthusiasm and I hope she can follow up what she did indoors with a great outdoor season. Sometimes when you're a younger person, you don't realize how long that season is (indoor and outdoor combined), and that may have happened with Tiy in the past.
Q: Sandy Fortner came close to qualifying for the NCAAs last year and has already shown a great deal of improvement in her second season - what do you expect to see out of her this spring?
MH: She's another one I thought should've been at the NCAAs last year. She threw the javelin a long way (during the MWC heptathlon competition), but put her foot on the line (on her longest throw) and I think that ended up keeping her out. We know she's a tremendous athlete and now she just needs to put it all together. Her first competition will be at Arizona (March 30-31), so I'm anxious to see how she does right off the bat. You always hope that every year an athlete matures, figures their events out more and more, and get to know what it takes to be a collegiate athlete. I think last year Sandy learned a little bit about that and I think she's working really hard to be the very best.
Q: Dan Feltman has been one of your best all-around athletes throughout his career, but injuries have always been a problem for him - what's his prognosis for this final outdoor season after the groin injury he suffered at the MWC indoor meet?
MH: You know his middle name is injury and he's injured now. We might see Dan sparingly in a couple events here and there, but to do a decathlon, I bet we won't see him until the conference meet. That groin injury is one of the worst you can have. It's tough because if you look back at all the times he's been injured, he's really missed out on a lot of competitions and a lot of opportunities to gain experience. I know he's hurting inside, but he's been working extremely hard in the training room and is trying to get healthy as fast as he can."
Q: Domnick Meadows (long jump/triple jump) was injured and Josh Cosio (high jump) struggled a little with inconsistency during the indoor season - how much improvement do you expect out of them outdoors?
MH: Domnick is healthy and going 100 miles per hour. He could've jumped at the conference (indoor) meet, but we didn't want to burn his entire year of indoor eligibility on one meet. I think he's got a little frustration inside because he didn't get to compete indoors, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Domnick have a great season. I think Josh got a little frustrated also with how he ended the indoor season, but I've seen him doing some things on the track and putting in a little more work than I've never seen him do before. He's tremendously gifted and I think the extra work will help him.
Q: With All-American pole vaulter Robert Caldwell redshirting this year, what kind of production are you looking for in that event this spring?
MH: Robert would be one of the favorites to win it at the conference meet if he were competing this year, but if the rest of our vaulters could pick up three places at the conference meet that would be huge. Now that's a tough event in this conference - BYU sent two guys to the NCAAs (indoors) - but I hope we can get on track and be in the mix. Zach (Graham) and Matt (Hull) really did some nice things for us at the (MWC) indoor meet and I hope Adam Martinez can get well. He's had some tough times, but that kid can vault.
Q: Your men's 4x400 team won its final three races to close the indoor season, including the MWC title - can they keep that going outdoors?
MH: We had some advantages running at home all winter, but those guys really got tough late in the season. Taylor (Siemon) was very upset that he didn't make the finals in the 400 (at the MWC Championships), but he led off that relay and put us business and gave us the lead. Kurt (Henry), Jarrin (Solomon) and Randle (McCain), they've all learned how to hold the inside lane and make people work harder than they are (to try and pass). Outdoors is going to be a little different because they're not going to be able to control those turns and so we're going to have to run a little different. They're looking forward to the challenge though. I know TCU was really upset that we beat them (at the MWC Championship) and our guys were fired up too. So I'm glad that there's some competition there and I know it's going to be a great race at (outdoor) conference meet.
All of those guys (Siemon, Henry, McCain, Solomon) are good friends off the track as well, so there is definitely some chemistry in that group. They support each other and work well as a unit, but I always like to see competition for those relay spots though. We've got some other guys who can run a good 400 and we're going to put our best four runners on the track in that relay.
Q: What about your women's 4x4 team - can they get in the mix for all-conference honors outdoors?
MH: I really think we can put together a pretty good little team. Of course we've got Ariel and really, Kristan Matison, should be our No. 2 runner. Kim Perkins can also run a good 400 outdoors and Sandy (Fortner) and Christina (Zarrella) can too. We need some people to step up in some spots, but I think we've got the talent to run pretty fast outdoors.
Q: Finally, talk a little about your women's sprinters - you return your top 100 runner in Kristan Matison and signed quite a few newcomers out of high school - how do you think that unit will develop this spring?
MH: Obviously, Kristan has proven that she is a very talented sprinter and I think if she can stay healthy, you'll see her in the regional meet this year. She and Ariel (Burr) are the core of our 4x100 team as well, but we also have some other young ladies who I hope can really help us too. Alesha Walker had a very good indoor season and she's got a ton of potential. Tressi (Richardson) had a tough time with getting sick indoors and we really need to get her confidence back, but she is super talented and can really help us out a lot. We just need to get everybody on track, but I think we can do some pretty nice things in the sprints this year.