Lobos Kick off 2013 Track Season with Big Talent and Bigger Expectations
Jan. 10, 2013
After last year's record-breaking indoor season, the bar seemed set.
However, the bar is being raised again in 2013.
As New Mexico kicks off the indoor track and field campaign this weekend at the Lumberjack Team Challenge in Flagstaff, Ariz., the Lobos are once again aiming high with the intention of outdoing 2012's phenomenal indoor season.
"The expectations are for everyone to be a little better," said New Mexico head coach Joe Franklin. "And I think we had some really amazing performances last indoor track season."
To say the Lobos had some really amazing performances in 2012 is probably understating things. New Mexico posted 17 All-Mountain West Athletes, 8 new school records, 5 All-Americans and one national champion last indoor season, numbers which had almost been unheard of in the past.
But under Franklin, they are numbers that have been increasingly common.
The Lobos have also won 17 individual conference titles in the past five years, numbers that hadn't been seen consistently in nearly three decades. Since Franklin's arrival in the summer of 2007, the Lobos have been able to cultivate an indoor program that has won three individual national titles and sent 15 athletes and two relay teams to the national meet.
And while this success is orchestrated by New Mexico's coaches, a substantial part of the success belongs to the athletes, who once again are looking to continue this upward ascent.
The Lobo men have been fighting for conference supremacy the past four years, but are still in pursuit of their first conference title.
After the sensational indoor season, however, that quest might just winding to a close.
Ranked just out of the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association's preseason top-25 projections, the 27th-ranked Lobos are the highest-ranked Mountain West squad and are looking like one of the teams - if not the team - to beat in the conference.
"They're two of the best jumpers in the country," Franklin said of Spencer and Ross. "And Austin Brobst, the jumps coach, has done a great job of developing those guys ... Those guys set the standard for what the national level is like."
But not to be outdone are the rest of the Lobos, which includes a group of distance runners that has won four consecutive MW cross country championships.
Two-time All-American Ross Millington returns after knocking out the school record in the 3000-meter run in 2012, and is joined by newcomer (and 2012 MW cross country titlist) Luke Caldwell. Additional distance runners, including senior Sean Stam, and transfers Patrick Zacharias and Adam Bitchell, are also looking to add to the talent.
In the mid-distance, Sam Evans and Gabe Aragon are two veterans with championship aspirations. Evans, noted by Franklin as a potential breakout athlete, is a skilled miler, while Aragon emphatically claimed a victory the 800 at the 2012 MW indoor meet and is looking to repeat.
Freshman Elmar Engholm from Sweden is another mid-distance threat with high upside after earning MW Freshman of the Year in cross country.
Another group that could challenge for all-conference honors are the pole vaulters. Logan Pflibsen is the men's best vaulter, but has a solid supporting cast in Robert Warensjo, Chris Dodds, and Tyler Jackson.
Elsewhere, the Lobos return only two sprinters, Derek Montoya and Thomas Trujillo, and a single indoor hurdler, De'Vron Walker, but all three are decorated athletes who can contribute to a conference title their senior seasons.
Also a senior, Richard York (the do-everything, jack-of-all-trade heptathlete) will aim to take gold in the heptathlon one final time after missing out in 2012.
While the women might not have the national championships like the men, the UNM
women cannot be counted out of the conference race. Three Lobo seniors - Josephine Moultrie, Amber Menke and Shirley Pitts - are headlining the New Mexico effort heading into the indoor season as they try to build off of 2012's second-place conference finish, the best in team history.
Moultrie returns as the Lobos' premier mid-distance threat after shattering records during the 2012 indoor season. She holds the school benchmarks in the 600, 800 and the mile.
Similarly stalwart, the women's pole vaulters also have tremendous skill, including the top school mark in both indoor and outdoor pole vault. Amber Menke, the indoor record holder, and Margo Tucker, the outdoor record holder, are the most decorated vaulters, but Julia Cook and Nathalie Busk are capable of superb marks.
Almost as decorated as both the harriers and the vaulters are the sprinters. Shirley Pitts, the 2012 MW 400 champion, leads a very talented sprinting core that returns the bulk of the 4x400 relay team (including Tawsha Brazley and Mickey Brown) that took bronze at the 2012 MW Indoor Championships.
Pitts and Brazley are also veritable threats in the 400, while junior Kayla Fisher-Taylor is a contender in the short sprints in the MW now that perennial sprints-power TCU has departed.
Senior Precious Selmon could also be due for a strong senior season, as she holds the school record in the 60 hurdles and has claimed All-Conference honors back-to-back years indoors and outdoors.
Also a potential candidate to make a solid impact is sophomore multi-athlete Samantha Bowe, was able to notch a bronze medal at the 2012 MW Indoor Championships.
The Lobos sport the essentially same schedule as last year, including the season-opening Lumberjack Team Challenge at Northern Arizona this Friday on Jan. 12.
Like in 2012, the Lumberjack Team Challenge in Flagstaff, Ariz., will see most of New Mexico's headliners absent, but a great deal of the Lobos' new talent in action. A number of freshmen will make their collegiate debut, while a handful of underclassmen will look to make a statement early in the season.
Heavy hitters like Spencer and Walker are entered, and most of New Mexico's pole vaulters, including Menke, Tucker and Pflibsen are also slated to compete.
With the meet in Arizona, the other team attending are no surprise, as the field is almost exclusively Arizona schools: the University of Arizona (No. 9 men, No. 12 women), Arizona State (No. 6 men), Northern Arizona and Phoenix-based Grand Canyon University. Only Southern Utah (and New Mexico) is not from the Grand Canyon State.
After NAU, the Lobos then return home for four-straight home meets at the Albuquerque Convention Center, starting with the Cherry & Silver Invitational on Jan. 18-19 and the New Mexico Invitational on Jan. 25-26. Both are a tune-up for most of the athletes, and will feature stiff competition in BYU, California, San Diego State and Utah.
A week later, Feb. 1-2, the Lobos will host the New Mexico Classic, a large meet expected to field nearly 900 athletes from 17 schools, including Alabama, Miami (Florida) and TCU.
But all of those meets will look like scrimmages compared to the Don Kirby Elite Invitational. A world-class meet in 2012, the Don Kirby is shaping up to be another nationally competitive showdown between some of America's top teams.
"The vision myself and [Assistant Coach Richard] Ceronie have is to make sure that this is the precursor to next year's NCAA Championships," Franklin said. The Lobos host the 2014 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships, and a meet of this caliber looks to help New Mexico prepare for such a event.
"There's a lot of great teams coming in and a lot of great athletes," Franklin said. "We have a couple of Olympians who have contacted us."
Among those great teams are Arizona, Arizona State, Brigham Young, California, Kansas State, Mississippi, Ohio State, San Diego State, Stanford, UCLA, Utah State and Washington State. All but three of those teams are from BCS conferences, and all but four of the teams have at least a men's or women's team ranked in the top-25.
Also during that weekend, New Mexico's distance runners will take a trip to Seattle to compete at the Washington Husky Classic hosted by the University of Washington. At the 2012 edition, Ross Millington snapped the school record in the 3K and qualified to the NCAA Championships.
After that, the Lobos will travel to the MW Indoor Championships, which, for the first time in three years, is not in Albuquerque at the Convention Center. In Boise, Idaho, (the site of the 2012 NCAA indoor meet), the MW championships will feature a number of strong teams vying for supremacy--among them the Lobos.
"We're going to take the best students that we can to the conference meet," Franklin said. "I think Boise [State] and Air Force are very solid on the men's side. San Diego [State] is very good on the women's side along with Colorado State."
Despite having to travel, New Mexico should find itself in the hunt for two more podium finishes.
"It's a good place to jump, the track's nice, the facility's good so it's a potential to get some national qualifying marks out, like we did last year at the conference meet," Franklin said.
If all goes well, the Lobos will then aim to take athlete to the NCAA Indoor Championships at Randall Tyson Track in Fayetteville, Ark. New Mexico took five individuals to the 2012 NCAAs in Boise (a high in the Franklin era), and are projecting to improve on that mark.
"If we could take six of seven [men] to the NCAA Championships, that would be a banner year for the indoor season," Franklin said. "On the women's side, I think we have a really solid chance at getting three or four women and a relay to the NCAA Championships if things go well."
This early in the season, however, the coaches can only hope things go well.
But, with bar getting raised higher and higher, it's only appropriate.