May 25, 2007
DES MOINES, Iowa - University of New Mexico head coach Matt Henry couldn't have scripted the first day of the 2007 NCAA Midwest Regional Championships any better. New Mexico qualified two athletes to NCAA Championship meet, two more to Saturday's regional finals and had another all but secure her national championship berth on Friday at historic Drake Stadium. Despite having the fewest number of qualifiers (eight) since the regional format began in 2003, the Lobos are well on their way to their finest overall performance at what many consider America's toughest regional championship meet.
Sophomore Katie Coronado opened the day with a sixth place finish in the nation's premier women's javelin field, which boasted eight competitors ranked among the top-25. Coronado moved up a spot on her 2006 finish and was one spot shy of an automatic berth to the national meet. The Ruidoso, N.M. product recorded a top mark of 163' 2" on her final throw of the afternoon, putting herself in excellent shape for an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships.
Coronado entered the weekend ranked 10th in the country with a season-best mark of 169' 10". If she does advance as expected, Coronado would be the second UNM woman ever to qualify in the javelin and the first since 1997.
Senior distance runners Jeremy Johnson and Timmie Murphy left no doubt about their NCAA Championship prospects, punching their ticket to Sacramento with a pair of top-5 finishes in the strongest 5,000-meter fields in the nation.
Already a near-lock for an at-large bid in the 10,000, Johnson finished third in the men's 5K, which featured 7 top-25 ranked runners, with a time of 14:01.43. The Albuquerque Manzano High School product took the lead with one lap to go and came within 200 meters of being the third Lobo to win a Midwest regional title before a late kick by Colorado's Brent Vaughn and Texas Tech's Kevin Chelimo.
Johnson, who entered the race as the No. 5 seed, defeated Texas A&M-Corpus Christi's All-American Shadrack Songok (4th - 14:04.06) for the first time in three tries this year. Vaughn, a three-time All-American in the 5,000, broke his own Midwest Championships record with a time of 13:57.36, while Big 12 Conference 10,000 champion Chelimo finished in 13:59.42.
Johnson became the first Lobo to qualify for nationals in the 5,000 and should also see his name among the field of the 10,000, where he is ranked 13th in the country. He joins three-time All-American Matt Gonzales (2003-04) as the only UNM distance runners to qualify for the NCAA Championships since 1989.
Later, Murphy used a dramatic surge over the final 600 meters of the women's 5K to extend her collegiate career with a fourth place finish (career-best 16:25.21) in a field that boasted 7 of the nation's top-25 competitors.
After running with the top-5 for the first half of the race, Murphy's chances appeared to be slipping away when she dropped to seventh and trailed an accelerating lead pack by roughly 50 meters with four laps remaining. However, the Farmington, N.M. product refused to fold and gradually began to make up ground.
With two laps to go, she moved into sixth place and set her sights on Texas Tech's Irene Kimaiyo, the '06 Midwest Regional runner-up in the 5K, and Iowa's cross country All-American Racheal Marchand.
At the bell lap Murphy surged past the fading Kimaiyo (16:27.27) and Marchand (16:27.72) and into fourth place and then held off the pair over the final 100 meters to secure her first trip to nationals. Murphy became the first UNM women's distance runner since Tangi Galloway in 1997 to advance to the NCAA Championships and the first Lobo woman ever to score in a track event at the Midwest Regionals.
Earlier in the day, junior Jarrin Solomon (Albuquerque La Cueva High School) established himself as one of the best in the country's top 400-meter region by advancing to the finals for the first time in his career. The Mountain West Conference champion finished second in his heat, behind Big 12 champion LeJerald Betters of Baylor, and in the eighth and final qualifying position with a time of 46.68. The Midwest field featured 10 of the nation's top-25 400 runners.
Solomon got out of the blocks well, then gave up a little ground down the back stretch before surging past Texas A&M's AC Robinson and TCU's Dell Guy over the final 125 meters. Betters clocked the fastest time of the day in the prelims, finishing in 46.01. Solomon, meanwhile, erased two years of disappointment at the Midwest Championships by becoming the first Lobo sprinter to advance to the regional finals. The No. 9 seed had finished no better than 17th in two previous regional appearances.
Burr quickly became the second UNM sprinter to make the finals with a spirited run out of lane eight in the first heat of the women's 400. The 5-4 Burr held off a hard-charging field around the final turn only to finish second in her heat behind five-time All-American and 2006 national champion Emeke Alexander of Iowa. Burr recorded the fifth-fastest time of the day (53.28) to easily advance to the event finals.
The Carrizozo, N.M. product was one of four MWC runners to move on to Saturday's finals, along with TCU's Deborah Jones and Nathandra John, and Wyoming's Sharon Larrier. Jones, the MWC Champion, recorded the fastest time of the day (52.86), while John (53.70) and Larrier (53.98) finished seventh and eighth, respectively.
Like Solomon, Burr also had a breakthrough performance after not finishing higher than 20th in her two previous regional appearances.
Elsewhere, junior Tiyana Peters finished tied for 13th in her regional debut in the women's high jump. The 25-woman field included 10 jumpers ranked among the top-25 nationally.
Peters, the MWC indoor and outdoor champion, cleared 5' 7 ¼" on her first attempt and had two strong runs at the next height of 5' 9 ¼" before bowing out. The Flanders, N.J. product entered the meet with a season-best clearance of 5' 10".
The Lobos will look to continue their momentum as the Midwest Regional Championships come to a close on Saturday. Sophomore Anthony Fairbanks (No. 7 seed) and senior Dan Feltman (No. 22 seed) open the day in the men's javelin at noon (Mountain), followed by Solomon (3:15 p.m.) and Burr (3:20 p.m.) in the 400 finals.
Solomon will be running on the far inside in lane one, while Burr will be in lane three. A top-five finish will clinch an automatic bid to the NCAA Championships in Sacramento, while career-best times by both athletes could put them in contention for an at-large berth.
Solomon recorded his personal record of 46.42 earlier this season on March 31 in Tucson, Ariz., while Burr's best time, an altitude-adjusted 53.04 (52.93 raw) came on May 13, 2006 in Provo, Utah. New Mexico has not had men's 400 runner advance to nationals since Tony Eziuka in 1991 and has never sent a women's quarter-miler to the NCAA meet.
Saturday's weather could be challenging for all the athletes with thunderstorms and strong winds forecast throughout the afternoon.