L-R:Cameron Clarke, Jeremy Johnson, Matthew Gonzales
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- The University of New Mexico men's and women's cross country teams made a triumphant return to the UNM North Golf Course with a pair of stellar performances in their 2002 home-opener, the UNM Lobo Invitational, on Saturday morning. The Lobo men cruised to their second-straight victory, 21 points ahead of runner-up Air Force, while the women finished a strong second behind the Falcon women.
New Mexicos men used an outstanding group effort to best the 12-team field and remain undefeated on the season. The win was also UNMs first over Mountain West Conference and NCAA Mountain Region rival Air Force under third-year head coach Matt Henry. The Falcons began the season ranked just ahead of New Mexico in the national preseason poll, but were picked to finish fourth, one spot behind the Lobos, in the MWC preseason poll.
Junior Ben Ortega paced the squad early on, running in second for most of the 8,000-meter race, behind the eventual winner, Ben Payne of Air Force. Three-fourths into the race sophomore Cameron Clarke led a surging trio of Lobos, including junior Matthew Gonzales and freshman Jeremy Johnson, up through the field. Junior Nick Martinez fended off a pair of runners from UTEP and Air Force to move into the top-10 and join the lead pack. Payne never faltered down the stretch, going wire-to-wire for a hard-fought victory (24:01), his second-straight at the UNM Lobo Invitational. However, New Mexico easily wrapped up the team title with its tremendous group running as Clarke (24:03), Ortega (24:07), Gonzales (24:07), Johnson (24:11) finished second through fourth, respectively, with Martinez (24:38) close behind in seventh. UTEPs Bashar Ibrahim (24:41), the defending Western Athletic Conference champion, was the only other runner to breakup the Lobo pack, finishing sixth. UNM junior Sean Flahery (13th - 25:22) and freshman Brandon Vigil (16th - 25:28) rounded out the Lobos top-seven.
On the womens side, sophomore Jacquelyne Gallegos led an impressive, gutty performance by New Mexico, which was without junior Sarah Gonzales, the 2001 Lobo Invitational champion, who was held out due to illness. Gallegos improved nine spots on finish last fall, running second from start to finish to complete the 6,000-meter course in 22:45. Rachael Cuellar of New Mexico State was the wire-to-wire winner, finishing 41 seconds ahead of Gallegos. However, the Lobos avenged their 10-point loss to the Aggies on Aug. 30 in the season-opener finishing 66 points ahead of fourth place NMSU and 17 points better than third place Texas Tech. Air Force placed all five scoring runners in the top-10 to defeat New Mexico 39-61.
Sophomore Racquel Ricci (23:31) and freshman Janice Tosa (23:31) also turned in fine performances, running side-by-side to finish 11th and 12th, respectively, while freshman Karina Hill-Hurtado (23:50) was close behind in 14th. Junior transfer Amanda Swann (24:12) capped the Lobo scoring with a 22nd place finish, while sophomore Vanessa Funston (27th - 24:26) and Timmie Murphy (28th - 24:26) rounded out the UNM top-seven.
Im real happy with how we ran today, said Henry. This was a great, memorable day for us, but we cant get too pleased with ourselves. We have to continue to train hard in practice and focus on achieving the higher goals that weve set for ourselves at the Mountain West Conference meet and NCAA Regionals. Next we go to Stanford, which will be a very tough meet, so we have to get right back to work.
The UNM men and women travel to Palo Alto, Calif. in two weeks for the elite Stanford Cross Country Invitational on Sep. 28.