New Mexico Looking for Top-Notch Marks at Top-Notch Don Kirby Elite

Feb. 6, 2013

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — With all the star power coming to the Duke City on Friday, the Lobos shouldn't have to worry about any prime-time blackouts.

While the Super Bowl might have had the lights go out, the Albuquerque Convention Center will likely be bursting with energy.

The University of New Mexico's track and field team is hosting an electric field at the Don Kirby Elite Invitational on Friday, as it battles a number of nationally ranked teams and athletes in an NCAA-caliber environment.

“It's a great competition with schools coming from all across the country,” Lobo head coach Joe Franklin said. “It'll be a great chance for our elite kids to really be pushed and tested.”

New Mexico will have to amp up its game this weekend versus a preeminent group of teams. The men's team in attendance include No. 6 Arizona State, No. 9 Arizona and No. 15 Stanford, along with four other ranked team.

On the women's side, No. 12 Arizona, No. 13 Stanford and No. 20 San Diego State will also be competing.

But for the Lobos, whose men's team rank just outside of the top-25 at No. 31, this meet projects to propel athletes into the NCAA championships in just over a month.

Django Lovett is facing off against the nation's best high jumpers.

As the top 16 athletes (and top 12 relay teams) in the nation qualify to the national championships, New Mexico needs some top-notch performances to earn spots. With only three men and a single women in that upper echelon at this point, the Lobos are aiming to increase their numbers against institutions that have a number of athletes on that level.

Arizona, Arizona State, California, Kansas State, Mississippi, Ohio State, San Diego State, Stanford, UCLA, Utah State and Washington State are all slated to compete this weekend. Almost all of those big-name teams have multiple athletes ranked in the top 16 nationally.

One event that is charged with talent is the men's high jump, which will feature many athletes capable of clearing seven feet. Among that group is the reigning Olympic silver medalist, Erik Kynard from Kansas State, who leads the nation with Ole Miss jumper Rickey Robertson. The pair will face off against Arizona State's Edgar Rivera-Morales (No. 6) and New Mexico's Django Lovett.

The men's horizontal jumps are also shaping up to be high-level showdowns. The triple jump has Robertson (No. 4 in NCAA), ASU's Chris Benard (No. 6), Ole Miss's Morris Kersh (No. 9) and New Mexico's Floyd Ross (No. 15).

For Ross, this is an opportunity to move up the ranks and solidify a place in the national championships.

“He's going to have to improve a little,” Franklin said. “He's getting better each week. He's just got to go out and compete. He's competing against three of the best jumpers in the country.”

The men's long jump also sports a strong field able of leaping past 24 feet. With Kansas State's Jharyl Brown, Ohio State's Korbin Smith, California's Hammed Suleman and New Mexico's Kendall Spencer entered, NCAA-worthy marks seem obtainable.

The sprints should also yield some record times, especially in the 60-meter dash. Among UNM freshmen Ridge Jones and Carlos Wiggens, Kansas State speedster Carlos Rodriguez and ASU sprinter Ryan Milus, Friday could see a number of sub-7 second times.

“Carlos and Ridge are starting to run better, so those are two that hopefully can continue to make progress,” Franklin said.

Other events on the men's side with elite contenders include the pole vault, which features four of the top 10 in the nation and some 18-foot leapers, and the weight throw, which has the nation's top-two throwers.

The women's events also have some premier athletes in action at the Albuquerque Convention Center.

Amber Menke broke the school record in the pole vault last year at the Don Kirby Elite.

The nation's leading triple jumper, Shanieka Thomas from San Diego State, is competing, along with two of the nation's top-eight long jumpers in ASU's Christabel Nettey (No. 4) and UCLA's Kylie Price (No. 8).

A handful of 13-foot threats in the women's pole vault will also be battling for an NCAA-quality mark, as SDSU's Kristen Brown, ASU's Shaylah Simpson and UNM's Amber Menke take to the skies.

“Hopefully she can get onto the poles that she needs to and have some great attempts at some big bars,” Franklin said of Menke.

The women's 400 also looks to be a scorcher, with multiple runners capable of running under 54 seconds, including Arizona's Georganne Moline and Shapri Romero, as well as Arizona State's Brianna Tate. Shirley Pitts, who carries in a personal best right at 54 seconds, looks to challenge for her own top time.

Also slated to compete are some of the best athletes in Divsion II, as well as some of the world's best professional track and field athletes.

And while only the Lobos' elite will be competing on Friday, New Mexico is also hosting the Don Kirby Open on Saturday. The rest of the Lobos team will get in some competition before the Mountain West Conference Championships in three weeks.

Some schools from the Don Kirby Elite will stay for Saturday's Open, including Arizona, Kansas State and Washington State.

The Elite Invitational starts Friday at 1 p.m. MT with the Women's Long Jump, and concludes with the Women's 4x400 relay at 9:50 p.m. The Open commences at 9:30 a.m. with the women's weight throw, and ends at 3:45 p.m. with the women's 4x400.

Check throughout both meets for live results and after each meet for full recaps.