Lobos Vying for Titles at MW Indoor Championships
Feb. 20, 2013
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — After posting its best statistical performance in program history at the 2012 conference championships, New Mexico is aiming higher this weekend.
But any higher might result in one thing: the Lobos first ever indoor conference championship.
The University of New Mexico's track and field team is looking to improve on its podium finishes from last year's conference meet as it travels to the 2013 Mountain West Indoor Track & Field Championships this weekend in Nampa, Idaho.
The Lobos, who come in as one of the stronger programs in the conference, are primed to better their accomplishments from last year's championships. The women claimed a program-best second-place finish in 2012, while the men registered their highest point total in school history en route to finishing third.
"Right now, what I'm really fired up about is everyone is geared toward getting a conference title," Lobo Kendall Spencer said.
But for New Mexico, getting that conference title is easier said than done. While UNM has claimed some outdoor titles back in the 1960s, the Lobos have never finished first indoors. The best men's finish happened in 2009 when they placed second, while the women's 2012 finish was their high mark.
To get that elusive indoor title, New Mexico will showcase a skilled corps of runner and jumpers as it vies for conference supremacy at Jacksons Indoor Track at the Idaho Center Thursday to Saturday.
For the men, the talented Lobos jumpers lead the charge into the conference championships. Kendall Spencer, the reigning NCAA champion in the indoor long jump, paces the group that features three conference leaders.
Spencer enters the meet as the league's best in the long jump, an event where five of the top eight competitors are Lobos.
"We actually have pretty high expectations," long jumper Zach Smith said. "As a group we've been jumping well, so I think we have the chance to take the top three, four, if not even five positions."
The men's triple jump and high jump can also contribute solid points with the conference leaders in both events. Floyd Ross leads the MW in the triple jump (and ranks sixth in the long jump), while Django Lovett ranks first in the high jump.
Another source of scoring for the New Mexico men will be the men's vaunted distance crew.
The Lobos are helmed by Luke Caldwell and his conference-leading mark in the 5,000-meter run, but also have a superlative supporting cast of Sam Evans, Sean Stam, Patrick Zacharias and Pierre Malherbe.
Each of those runners will compete in multiple events, ranging from the mile (Caldwell, Evans), to the 3000 and 5000 (Caldwell, Zacharias, Stam, Malherbe).
On top of that, another forte the men look to rely on for points is the mid-distance and sprints.
Four potential scorers headline the men's 800, as conference leader Alex Herring will battle the 2012 champion and teammate Gabe Aragon for top honors. Aragon checks in second in the MW in the 800, while Evans ranks fourth and JP Cordova seventh.
In the sprints, freshmen Ridge Jones and Carlos Wiggens are aiming for medals in the 60 and 200, respectively, while Spencer looks to contribute in both short sprints. Charles Lewis also projects to score in the men's 200 and 400, while Derek Montoya and Chris Kline are aiming to contribute in the quarter mile and 4x400 relay.
Hurdler De'Vron Walker can also score a solid finish for the Lobos in the men's 60 hurdle, as can York in the two-day heptathlon.
On the women's side, New Mexico's best shot lies in its distance runners.
Josephine Moultrie will key any Lobos surge, as she leads the MW in the mile and 3000. She is also entered in the 800, and will look to defend her 2012 All-Mountain West honors in the 800 and mile.
Along with Moultrie, New Mexico has five more runners capable of nabbing all-conference honors in Imogen Ainsworth (mile, 3000); Kendra Schaaf (3000, 5000); Kirsten Follett (mile, 3000); Shawna Winnegar (3000, 5000); and Janna Mitsos (3000).
However, in order for the Lobos to hoist a conference championship, they will have to knock off some stiff competition.
While the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) has just one ranked team on both sides, the San Diego State women, the conference meet is still shaping up to fight on both sides.
"It's going to be a good meet all the way around," New Mexico head coach Joe Franklin said. "You have some national leaders in quite a few events."
San Diego State triple jumper Shanieka Thomas is one of those national leaders, and has the No. 24 Aztec women as the odds-on favorite to claim the women's crown. The Lobos might be able to crack the top-three places of the nine-team league, which includes Air Force, Boise State, Colorado State, Fresno State, Nevada, UNLV and Wyoming.
Conversely, the men's race is more open. Air Force, host Boise State, Colorado State and the Lobos all have legitimate claims to the best finish, with Wyoming and Fresno State chasing that pack.
New Mexico checks in with the best numbers in the latest USTFCCCA Regional Index, but still matches up comparably with the Falcons, Broncos and Rams.
"Teams are going to get out there and compete to the best of their abilities," Spencer said. "Boise State is going to have a good squad, Air Force is going to have a great. So the focus is destroy everything in blue."
Which, if the Lobos want their first blue-ribbon finish, might be the only option.