ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — And they’re off and running.
The starting gun is about to be fired for what will be a whirlwind month at the Albuquerque Convention Center’s indoor track, where the University of New Mexico will host four straight weekends of collegiate meets. The first, the Cherry & Silver Invitational, kicks off at 4 p.m. today and continues Saturday.
Approximately 700 athletes from schools including California, Tulane, Utah State and UTEP are expected to compete, according to Lobo head coach Joe Franklin. It’s UNM’s largest home opener ever, he added.
Cherry & Silver Invitational: Albuquerque Convention Center
But that’s just the beginning. Ensuing meets include the smaller-scale New Mexico Collegiate Invitational (Jan. 27-28), the massive New Mexico Collegiate Classic (Feb. 3-4) – which should draw 35 teams – and the Don Kirby Elite Team Invitational (Feb. 10), which will feature several of the country’s top track programs.
“It’s not big in numbers, it’s big in prestige,” Franklin said of the Don Kirby, which is bringing the likes of Oregon, Ohio State, Texas, Florida and Stanford to the Duke City.
Franklin – whose Lobos will remain in Albuquerque for the Mountain West Conference championships Feb. 23-25 – said the Don Kirby in particular is an opportunity to expose the nation’s most influential coaches to Albuquerque’s indoor track in the hopes of landing the 2014 NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships.
“It’s a chance to show off the facility, show off the city,” Franklin said. “That’s the one we’re pushing to get people in the stands for. It’s a short Friday night (meet). If we can get 2,000 people in the stands, that will go a long way toward getting the championships.”
Team scores may be kept during the Don Kirby, Franklin said, but individual performance is the only thing that counts during the first three.
Among the Lobo men to watch are Django Lovett (high jump), Kendall Spencer (long jump) and Richard York (heptathlon), each of whom has at least one conference indoor or outdoor title on his résumé. Distance specialist Ross Millington, a 2011 indoor NCAA qualifier, is also back. Franklin said UNM should also get a boost from freshman sprinter Beejay Lee, a former high school star in California.
As for the women, Franklin expects continued success from returning standouts Ruth Senior (distance events) and Precious Selmon (hurdles and long jump), while freshmen jumpers Aasha Marler and Yeshemabet Turner could make an immediate impact. With Amber Menke and Margo Tucker, the pole vault may be one of the Lobos’ best events.
As the Lobos fight for berths to the NCAA indoor championships, Franklin said it helps to keep them at home week after week. The NCAA generally takes just the top 14 per event for the indoor championships – far fewer than make the cut for the outdoor season – and Franklin said it’s a “huge advantage” that the Lobos don’t have to endure the rigors and complications of traveling every weekend of the relatively short season.
“You have to be on your game in a very short period to make it (to nationals),” he said.
New Mexico Ready for the 2012 Indoor Season
track & field
— This article appeared on page D3 of the Albuquerque Journal