New Mexico To Face NCAA’s Best At Pivotal Pre-National Invitational
UPCOMING The University of New Mexico men’s and women’s cross country teams open the most important stretch of the 2002 schedule on Saturday, Oct. 19 when they travel to Terre Haute, Ind. for the Asics/Pacesetter Pre-National Invitational. An enormous field of 90 men’s and 97 women’s teams from across the country will toe the line in an attempt to bolster their national rankings and increase their chances for an at-large bid to the 2002 NCAA Championships, which will also be held in Terre Haute on Nov. 25. The women will run a 6,000-meter course, while the men will run an 8K at the LaVern Gibson Course at the Wabash Valley Family Sports Center.
To accommodate the number of runners, the meet will feature three women’s and three men’s races with the individual race fields to be seeded by rank. New Mexico’s 28th-ranked men’s squad will likely be pitted against some of the premier teams in the country. Top-ranked Stanford leads a contingent of 19 top-30 men’s teams in Saturday’s field with another eight squads which are receiving votes in the national poll set to compete as well. On the women’s side, No. 1 Brigham Young is one of a staggering 25 top-30 teams set to compete along with eight more squads receiving votes in the national poll.
Last year in Greenville, S.C., New Mexico’s Matthew Gonzales finished 24th at the pre-nationals to lead the Lobo men to a 15th place finish in their 35-team heat. Sarah Gonzales placed 81st to lead a banged up women’s squad to a 30th place finish out of 34 squads in their heat.
The Pre-National Invitational is the first of three critical meets leading up to the national championships. Following the Pre-National meet, the Lobos head to Provo, Utah on Nov. 1 for the Mountain West Conference Championships, before returning home to Albuquerque for the NCAA Mountain Region Championships on Nov. 16 at the UNM North Golf Course. The top two teams out of each of the nine regions automatically qualifies for the NCAA Championships. Thirteen squads will earn at-large bids based on their season performances and strength of schedule.
MEET INFORMATION/RESULTS Complete information from the 2002 Asics/Pacesetter Pre-National Invitational can be found at the Indiana State University official athletic department website. Team and individual results will be available following the conclusion of the final race at approximately 3 p.m. (MDT).
Asics/Pacesetter Pre-Nationals: web.indstate.edu/athletics/cross
FROM HEAD COACH MATT HENRY (on the team’s health): “We haven’t had very good luck. We’re pretty banged up, especially on the men’s side, but we’re going to have to run through these nagging injuries. Matt Gonzales, Ben Ortega, Nick Martinez and Jeremy Johnson are all hurting right now, but I’m 95 percent sure they’ll race on Saturday. Two of our freshman women, Janice Tosa and Karina Hill-Hurtado are also nursing injuries. We’ll reevaluate their status later in the week.”
(on the importance of the Pre-National Invitational meet): “This is probably the biggest meet I’ve ever been involved in as a coach. It’s very important that we have a great meet out there. We’re going to have to knock off some ranked teams so they’ll remember New Mexico when it comes time to select the at-large teams for the NCAA Championships. We’re battling injuries right now, but it’s crucial that we run well on Saturday.”
LAST TIME (Cowboy Jamboree) Junior Sarah Gonzales led the University of New Mexico women's cross country team to a solid eighth place finish (266 points) in a field of 16 teams at the 66th annual Cowboy Jamboree on Oct. 5. Meanwhile, freshman Brandon Vigil paced a foursome of non-scoring runners from the men's team as the remainder of the Lobos' 27th-ranked squad rested in preparation for the NCAA pre-national meet on Oct. 19.
Gonzales led the team for the second-straight meet after being sidelined by an illness for the first two races of the year. The Albuquerque native finished 37th in the 5,000-meter race, completing the course in 18:59. Junior Amanda Swann placed 56th (19:29) to lead a tight pack of four Lobo scoring runners, including freshmen Janice Tosa (63rd - 19:37) and Karina Hill-Hurtado (68th - 19:40), and sophomore Racquel Ricci (75th - 19:46). Freshman Timmie Murphy and sophomore Vanessa Funston rounded out the Lobos' top-seven in 78th and 94th place, respectively.
Meanwhile, Vigil enjoyed a strong performance, finishing 64th with a time of 25:59 on the 8K course. Junior Leighton Katsuda and sophomore Nate Clem followed in 99th and 115th, respectively, while sophomore Joachin Marjon was 172nd in his second competition of the season.
GET WELL SOON Injuries and illness have taken their toll on the young Lobo women’s cross country team this season. New Mexico was forced to begin the season without its most experienced runner, junior Sarah Gonzales, who was unable to train late in the summer and was held out of the first two meets as she recovered from a serious bout of food poisoning. Gonzales, who led the squad in three meets last fall, eventually made her season-debut at the Stanford Invitational on Sept. 28. However, New Mexico suffered perhaps its most serious blow on Sept. 21, when sophomore Jacquelyne Gallegos was lost for the season after being involved in a major automobile accident near her hometown of Pojoaque, N.M. Gallegos, who also led the women in three meets last year, including the 2001 NCAA Championships, fractured her back and pelvis in the accident. She had led the team in its first two meets this season and was coming off a career-best second place finish at the UNM Lobo Invitational prior to the injury. Head coach Matt Henry said he is hopeful the outstanding sophomore will rehab successfully and might even be able to resume her promising track career this spring.
Meanwhile, UNM’s 28th-ranked men have been battling through a series of nagging injuries caused largely by the wear and tear of the team’s intense training over the past several months. Four of the Lobos’ top-five runners, junior All-American Matthew Gonzales, all-Mountain West junior Ben Ortega, junior Nick Martinez and freshman Jeremy Johnson, have been hampered with minor injuries over the past few weeks. As New Mexico enters the most important part of their schedule, Henry has limited the team’s weekly mileage to allow the men to return to health down the stretch.
MAKING WAVES After laboring in obscurity for nearly a decade, the Lobo men’s team is creating a buzz once again among national cross country coaches. New Mexico is currently ranked 28th in the Oct. 15 Mondo Men’s Cross Country Poll with 43 votes. UNM received 44 votes to move into a tie (with Michigan) for 29th place in the Sept. 17 national rankings, the team’s first appearance in top-30 since 1989, when it was ranked as high as 14th in the country. The Lobos received 11 votes in the preseason coaches poll, it’s first in the national poll since 1993, then was picked to finish third in the Mountain West Conference coaches poll (20 votes), its highest preseason poll position since the conference formed in 1999. UNM was picked to finish last in the MWC, earning just six votes, two years ago.
HAIL TO THE VICTORS In the five years prior to Matt Henry’s arrival as head cross country coach at New Mexico, the Lobo men’s team had notched just one meet victory. However, since Henry took control of the program in 2000, the men have captured six team titles. In his debut season, Henry’s Lobos captured the men’s race at the (NMSU) Kachina Classic. The following season the team finished three-points short of perfection with a winning score of 18 in its season-opener at the Lori Fitzgerald Invitational, then went on to best 10 teams in a victory at the ASU Invitational. This fall the men of New Mexico are undefeated through three meets (UNM did not field a full team in its fourth meet, the Cowboy Jamboree). After opening with another dominating win at the Lori Fitzgerald, UNM followed with a victory over a 12-team field in their home-opener, the UNM Lobo Invitational, then notched an impressive first place finish ahead of 29 teams at the 29th annual Stanford Invitational.
GO SPEED RACER, GO! It comes as no surprise that New Mexico’s strong team results this season have gone hand-in-hand with the Lobos’ improvement in individual times and finishes. Through three meets this season nine runners have recorded personal-best times (men’s 8K, women’s 6K), while seven have notched their highest career finish. Four runners on the men’s squad have also eclipsed last year’s top 8K time of 24:19, which was previously the fastest run under head coach Matt Henry. The following is a breakdown of this season’s progress:
|Athlete|2001 Best Time/Finish|2002 Best Time/Finish| |Cameron Clarke|25:26/5th|23:51/2nd| |Chad Dawson|25:59/22nd|25:29/20th| |Sean Flaherty|25:55/10th|25:17/13th| |Matthew Gonzales|24:19/1st|23:55/3rd| |Leighton Katsuda|27:48/26th|26:26/12th| |Nick Matinez|25:56/7th|24:48/7th| |Ben Ortega|24:46/4th|24:07/1st| |Chris Rogers|27:05/18th|26:44/23rd|
|Vanessa Funston|24:04/43rd|24:10/20th| |Jacquelyne Gallegos|22:29/3rd|22:45/2nd| |Racquel Ricci|24:33/14th|23:31/8th|
LET’S STAY TOGETHER One of the key factors in the Lobos’ early-season success has been the outstanding teamwork and group running the men and women have displayed in their first three meets. New Mexico’s pack spread, the difference in time between the team’s first and fifth finisher, has dropped significantly, along with the teams’ overall scores. After compiling an average pack spread of 1:31 last fall, the UNM men’s team has closed its average spread to just 1:02 through three meets this year (UNM field a full team at its fourth meet, the Cowboy Jamboree), including a mere 45 seconds in its home-opener, the UNM Lobo Invitational. Meanwhile, the women have also stepped up their group running. Buoyed by an impressive 47-second differencial at the Cowboy Jamboree, the Lobos have lowered their average pack spread to 1:11, 52 seconds tighter than last season’s mark of 2:03.
ORTEGA CAPTURES FIRST MWC ATHLETE OF THE WEEK AWARD University of New Mexico junior Ben Ortega earned the first Mountain West Conference Men’s Cross Country Athlete of the Week award of the season on Sept. 3 after leading the Lobo men to a big victory on Aug. 30 at the Lori Fitzgerald Invitational in Santa Teresa, N.M.
The Taos, N.M. native edged 2001 Western Athletic Conference champion, Bashar Ibrahim of UTEP, by 2.78 seconds at the finish line to record his first collegiate cross country victory. Ortega was one of five Lobos to finish in the top-six as the team posted an impressive 36-point victory (19-55) over the host Miners and an 87-point margin over rival New Mexico State (19-106). Ortega’s previous best result during the fall was a pair of fourth place finishes last fall.
The 2001 second-team all-MWC selection was one of three Lobos to automatically qualify for the NCAA National Cross Country Championships last fall. Ortega earned the weekly cross country award for the first time in his career after picking up his first career MWC Men’s Track Athlete of the Week award in April of 2002. Last year, Chris Orrell and junior Matthew Gonzales became the first two New Mexico athletes in the league’s three-year history to receive the weekly cross country honor.
YOUTH MOVEMENT New Mexico men’s and women’s teams will be virtually unchanged next fall thanks to a 2002 roster void of seniors and dominated by underclassmen. The women’s squad is particularly young with 10 sophomores and true freshmen and just two juniors. Meanwhile, the men’s team is led by a core of six juniors, but also features five sophomores and true freshmen with several redshirt freshmen waiting in the wings.
HOMEGROWN LOBOS The 2002 UNM cross country team is truly a showcase of the best distance talent in the state of New Mexico. Twenty-two of the 23 athletes on the team are products of the Land of Enchantment with junior Leighton Katsuda (Wailuku, Hawai’i) being the lone out-of-state runner on either the men’s or women’s roster. Last year, all three 2001 NCAA Cross Country Championship qualifiers, Jacquelyne Gallegos (Pojoaque, N.M.), Matthew Gonzales (Santa Fe, N.M.) and Ben Ortega (Taos, N.M.), were native New Mexicans. Following the tradition of head coach Matt Henry, an Albuquerque-native and former indoor track All-American, Gonzales went on to earn All-America honors himself with a 30th place finish at the national championship meet.
2001 SEASON REVIEW • The Lobos made a triumphant return to the national stage in 2001 when three athletes (Matthew Gonzales, Ben Ortega and Jacquelyne Gallegos) automatically qualified for the NCAA Championships, becoming New Mexico’s first national meet qualifiers in four years and the biggest contingent to compete since 1988. Sophomore Matthew Gonzales (Santa Fe, N.M.) capped the performance of the young trio of New Mexican runners by finishing 30th to become the Lobos’ first cross country All-American since 1982.
• After winning its first meet in 4 years last year, the UNM men’s team won 2 meets in 2001, the Lori Fitzgerald Invitational (El Paso, Texas) and the Arizona State Invitational (Gilbert, Ariz.). The Lobos blasted regional rivals UTEP and New Mexico State at the Lori Fitzgerald, winning with a score of 18, just 3 points shy of a perfect score. A month later, UNM cruised to a 25-pt. victory over regionally ranked UCLA and No. 15 ASU’s “B” team.
• UNM had 3 individual meet winners (Matthew Gonzales, Chris Orrell, Sarah Gonzales) in 2001 and 13 top-5 finishes. The year before no Lobo finished higher than 3rd and there were just 5 top-5 finishers on the men’s and women’s sides.
• Sophomores Chris Orrell and Matthew Gonzales were each selected Mountain West Conference Men’s Cross Country Athlete of the Week in 2001, the first Lobos ever to receive the weekly honor. Orrell was awarded after winning the Lori Fitzgerald Invitational, while Gonzales was recognized for his victory at the ASU Invitational.
• Men’s fastest 8K in 2000 was a time of 25:40...the best 8K in 2001 was 24:19 and 10th-fastest was 25:34...meanwhile, the women ran 5 sub-23:00 6K’s this season, compared to 4 last fall$