New Mexico Travels To Provo, Utah For Mountain West Championships
UPCOMING The University of New Mexico men’s and women’s cross country teams head north to Provo, Utah in search of conference bragging rights when they take on the powerful field at the Mountain West Conference Championships on Friday, Nov. 1. The competition will be held at the East Bay Golf Course, home of the three-time defending conference champion Brigham Young University men and women. The women’s 6,000-meter race will begin at 3:30 p.m. (MST), followed by the men’s 8K at 4:15.
Despite losing its top runner, sophomore Jacquelyne Gallegos, for the season, the young Lobo women have performed admirably. Junior Sarah Gonzales has paced the squad in each of team’s three races since Gallegos was sidelined and will be counted on again to lead the way in Provo. Gonzales was 16th at the 2001 MWC Championship in Albuquerque to lead the Lobos to a fifth place finish (139 points), two spots and 34 points better than its 2000 finish. She finished just two places shy of 14th, which would have been good for second team all-MWC honors, while clocking the team’s fastest 6K of the year (22:16).
The defending national champion and top-ranked Cougars of BYU will be the overwhelming favorite on Friday with No. 29 Colorado State and Utah expected to challenge for second place.
On the men’s side, the Lobos will be looking for redemption after a disappointing finish at the Pre-National Invitational on Oct. 19. New Mexico was picked to finish third in the conference pre-season poll, its highest prediction since the conference formed in 1999, but has been plagued by injuries to its top five runners over the past month. Junior Matthew Gonzales garnered all-MWC honors with his runner-up performance at the 2001 Mountain West Championship in Albuquerque and appears to be healthy entering Friday’s competition. Unfortunately, the status of fellow junior Ben Ortega, who was a second team all-conference honoree last fall (10th place), is doubtful as he struggles to recover from a series of nagging injuries. The performances of sophomore Cameron Clarke, who owns the second-fastest 8K time in the league this season, and freshman Jeremy Johnson will be critical to UNM’s success on Friday. At full strength, Gonzales, Ortega and Clarke would all be legitimate threats to bring home the conference title, a feat which hasn’t occurred at New Mexico since George Scott won the Western Athletic Conference championship in 1966. Paced by Gonzales and Ortega last fall, the Lobos improved 66 points to finish 5th (87 points), a single-point behind No. 22 Colorado State.
No. 10 BYU and 14th-ranked CSU are the favorites entering the meet, though both New Mexico and Air Force have upset potential. The individual race should be a real battle with Gonzales and Ortega among seven of last year’s top-10 finishers back in 2002. Ben Payne, who won the UNM Lobo Invitational earlier this season, and Chris Acs of Air Force, along with Utah’s Colby Frazier and BYU’s Andy Carman are among the other returning title contenders. Cougar sophomore Kip Kangogo has emerged as the favorite however after winning all three of his competitions this season, his first at BYU, including the Pre-National Invitational. Kongogo also owns the league’s top 8K time of 23:38.
MEET INFORMATION/RESULTS Complete information from the 2002 Mountain West Conference Championships can be found at the official website of the Mountain West Conference. Team and individual results will be available following the conclusion of the men’s race at approximately 6 p.m. (MST).
2002 MWC Championships: www.themwc.com/champ/mwc-champ.html
FROM HEAD COACH MATT HENRY (on the health of the men’s team): “We’ve still got some guys banged up right now. What we really need right now is complete rest, but that’s just not going to happen. It’s very doubtful that Ben Ortega will be able to run on Friday, but I think we’ve still got a good group that could mess things up for some teams. We’re just going to go out there, compete and see what happens. We’re not really worrying about the rest of schedule, we’re just focused on this meet right now.”
(on the men’s performance at the Pre-National meet): “I'm pleased with how our guys performed under very difficult circumstances. Matt (Gonzales) ran well, though he's not satisfied with where he finished. Chad Dawson and Brandon Vigil also did some nice things when they were forced to be our fourth and fifth scoring runners. We decided to reevaluate Ben (Ortega), so he didn't even make the trip. Cameron (Clarke) rolled his ankle twice early in the race and we also pulled Jeremy (Johnson) off the course after we decided he was just hurting too much to finish.”
LAST TIME (Asics/Pacesetter Pre-National Invitational) The 28th-ranked University of New Mexico men's cross country team finished 17th out of 35 teams in the men's blue race at the Asics/Pacesetter Pre-National Invitational on Oct. 19. Junior Matthew Gonzales finished 19th to lead an injury-riddled Lobo squad. New Mexico competed without three of its top-five athletes: junior Ben Ortega, sophomore Cameron Clarke and freshman Jeremy Johnson. Meanwhile, the UNM women finished 13th out of 29 squads in the women's open race.
Gonzales ran with the top-20 throughout the 8K competition, finishing with a final time of 24:23.5. With Ortega home in Albuquerque and Clarke and Johnson unable to complete the course, junior Sean Flaherty clocked the Lobos' 10th-fastest 8,000-meter time of the year and was the second UNM finisher (48th overall) in a time of 24:55. Fellow junior Nick Martinez was the third Lobo finisher (120th) with a final time of 25:33.5. Sophomore Chad Dawson (127th - 25:38) and freshman Brandon Vigil (150th - 25:51.3) rounded out New Mexico's five finishing runners.
Junior Sarah Gonzales, who missed the first two meets of the year with injuries of her own, continued her strong running at the Pre-Nationals. Gonzales clocked the second-fastest 6,000-meter time of the year for the Lobos, finishing 61st in a time of 22:43.6. Freshman Karina Hill-Hurtado was second on the team for the first time this season, placing 106th overall (23:12.7). Freshman Janice Tosa pushed through her own nagging injuries to finish 129th (23:27.3), followed by fellow freshman Timmie Murphy (133rd - 23:28.7) and sophomore Racquel Ricci (165th - 23:47.6). 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. Unfortunately, the bad luck has yet to run out for New Mexico as promising freshman Karina Hill-Hurtado will be out for the MWC Championship meet with tendonitis in her knee.
Meanwhile, the UNM men have been plagued by a series of nagging injuries over the past month. All of the Lobos’ top-five runners, junior All-American Matthew Gonzales, all-Mountain West junior Ben Ortega, sophomore Cameron Clarke, junior Nick Martinez and freshman Jeremy Johnson, have been hampered with leg injuries at some point over the past several weeks. Ortega is doubtful for Friday’s MWC Championship meet, while Clarke (ankle) and Johnson (knee tendonitis) are probable after being forced to pull out of the last meet, the Pre-National Invitational, on Oct. 19.
MAKING WAVES After laboring in obscurity for nearly a decade, the Lobo men’s team has created a buzz once again among national cross country coaches this season. New Mexico fell from the national top-30 after injuries to three of its top-five runners hampered the squad’s effort at the Pre-National Invitational (Oct. 19), but is receiving votes (3) for seventh-straight week in the Mondo Men’s Cross Country poll. 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 opened the season undefeated through three meets (UNM did not field a full team in its fourth meet, the Cowboy Jamboree) before finishing 17th at the Pre-National Invitational. 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 10 runners have recorded personal-best times (men’s 8K, women’s 6K), while eight 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|24:55/13th| |Matthew Gonzales|24:19/1st|23:55/3rd| |Leighton Katsuda|27:48/26th|26:26/12th| |Nick Matinez|25:56/7th|24:48/7th| |Joachin Marjon|29:55/51st|27:22/32nd| |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 five 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 1:08 through four meets this year (UNM did not field a full team at 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 deferential at the Cowboy Jamboree, the Lobos have lowered their average pack spread to 1:10, 51 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 • 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.
• New Mexico’s ability to run as a team was a key element of the squad’s success this fall. The men’s top-3 runners finished an average of 49 seconds apart in the team’s 6 meets, while the top-5 were separated by an average of 1:31, On the women’s side, the top-3 runners were separated by 1:12 on average, while the top-5 ran an average of 2:03 apart.
• UNM had 3 individual meet winners (Matthew Gonzales, Chris Orrell, Sarah Gonzales) this year and 13 top-5 finishes. Last season, no Lobo finished higher than 3rd and there were just 5 top-5 finishers on the men’s and women’s sides.
• A group of 17 talented newcomers made an immediate impact on both the men’s and women’s teams in 2002. On the men’s side, 3 of the squad’s top-7 runners were newcomers, led by sophomore Matthew Gonzales, a transfer from New Mexico Highlands. Overall 9 newcomers competed for the men’s team, combining for 13 top-25 finishes, including 7 top-10 finishes by Gonzales and freshman Cameron Clarke. On the women’s side, freshman Jacquelyne Gallegos led a contingent of 8 newcomers, comprising 2/3 of the team. The new Lobos accounted for 12 top-25 finishes, including 2 top-15 finishes by Gallegos.
• 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 last year was a time of 25:40...best 8K this season 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