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Kelati, distance medley relay take center stage on first day of MWC Indoor Championships

Weini Kelati

Weini Kelati, University of New Mexico’s star distance runner, will be featured Thursday in the first of three days of the Mountain West Conference Indoor Track & Field Championships at the Albuquerque Convention Center.

Kelati, the 2019 NCAA cross country champion, will be the anchor for the Lobos in the women’s distance medley relay, Thursday at 4:20 p.m., the final of four events scheduled to take place on the opening day. The Lobos will be vying to reach the NCAA Indoor Championship, March 13-14, also at Albuquerque Convention Center. The top 12 relay teams in the nation, and the NCAA’s top 16 individuals for each event advance to the NCAAs.

“In the distance medley relay, we’re trying to bump the 12th (qualifying) team out, which is Duke,” UNM coach Joe Franklin said. “We have to run under 11 minutes, 15 seconds to bump the Blue Devils off the list.”

Kelati has qualifying times for the NCAAs in the mile (4:32.66), 3,000 meters (8:54.66) and the 5,000 (15:14.71). She is No. 2 in the nation in the 5,000 meters and No. 3 in the 3,000 meters and the mile. She will scratch the mile for the NCAA meet, Franklin said.

If she helps the Lobos qualify in the distance medley she won’t compete in that event at the NCAA meet, Franklin said, as UNM can use a sub.

The Lobos qualified for the NCAAs in the women’s distance medley in 2017 and 2018 at the MWC finale, and missed on it last year.

Adva Cohen starts the relay with 1,200 meters, then to Abigail Bendle for 400 meters, to Elise Thorner for 800 and Kelati closes it out with 1,600.

Kelati will come back Saturday to compete in the women’s 3,000 meters at 1:10 p.m. She will be trying to help her teammates qualify for the NCAA meet, Franklin said.

The women’s 3,000 meters also features Cohen, Gracelyn Larkin, Hannah Nuttall and Emily Martin.

UNM junior sprinter Jay Griffin IV, who is also a wide receiver for the Lobos, will be defending his MWC championship in the 200 meters and will try to qualify for the NCAAs. He is about four-one hundredths of a second from what is now a qualifying time, Franklin said. The men’s 200-meter finals race is Saturday at 1 p.m.

Fellow UNM football teammates Lawrence “L.O.” Johnson, a running back, and Elijah Lilly, a wide receiver, are featured in the 60 meters. Johnson has the second-best time in the conference at 6.83, and Lilly is No. 4 at 6.88. The men’s 60-meter finals are Saturday at 12:20 p.m.

UNM senior Carlos Salcido enters with the top time in the 400 meters at 46.76 seconds. The men’s 400-meter finals are Saturday at noon.

The men’s 800 meters features Lobo seniors Max Wharton and Gavin Sleeter, who have the No. 2 (1:49.67) and No. 3 (1:49.87) times in the MWC, respectively. The men’s 800 finals are Saturday at 12:40 p.m.

UNM enters the conference championship with seven of the top results in the conference and five with the second-best result in their respective events. The Lobos have 54 entries in the MWC meet. UNM’s men and women both finished fourth in the MWC finale last year.

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