To Joe Franklin, it was like a train.
“Monday, Tuesday, it just kept going,” New Mexico’s track and field coach said.
That was in reference to one long week in 2020, the last time the NCAA Division I indoor track and field championships were set to be held at Albuquerque Convention Center. Sitting with two coaches on each side of him at a press conference on Thursday, Franklin remembered how they didn’t even make it that far three years ago after COVID-19 shut down the entire state.
“Literally about this time, we’re sitting on the porch, waiting for a call from the state and from the athletic director,” he said, “knowing that this was going to be probably canceled … it was heartbreaking.”
But now, the NCAA Division I indoor track and field championships are back in Albuquerque. Not including the canceled 2020 championships, this marks the second time the event has been hosted at the Albuquerque Convention Center.
It feels good to be back. Just ask Franklin.
“Now we have a chance to do it again and we have a chance to show off what we think is the best track in the world, to the best teams in the country and some of the best athletes in the world.
“We’re excited to do that.”
New Mexico won’t just be hosting, either. The Lobos will have four of their own competing in three different events, something Franklin great takes pride in.
“You don’t want to host a party and not be invited,” he laughed.
New Mexico’s Amelia Mazza-Downie and Gracelyn Larkin will compete in the women’s 5,000 meter championship after finishing seventh and eighth, respectively, in last year’s NCAA indoor 5,000 meter championship.
Both multi-time All-Americans, Downie and Larkin have already bettered their marks in the event this season and have run “exceptionally well” this indoor season per Franklin.
As for New Mexico’s Jake Burkey (long jump) and Ethan Brouw (800 meters)? This is not only their first NCAA championship – it’s the first time they’ll don turquoise, too.
“They only get turquoise at a national championship,” Franklin said. “That is part of them. They earned that and can take that with them for as long as they’re around.
“They have to give the red and white (uniforms) back, but they earned the turquoise.”
• Franklin and the Lobos aren’t the only people to have strong feelings about the indoor championships returning to Albuquerque.
For instance, Georgia’s Kyle Garland, the NCAA men’s record holder in the decathlon, said it’s “surreal” and “heart-wrenching” in a sense to be back in Albuquerque.
Ayden Owens-Delerme feels similar. After starting his career at USC, transferring to Michigan and making one final move to his current school in Arkansas, competing in and around the 200-meter banked oval at Albuquerque Convention Center would be a fitting end to his collegiate career.
“This is actually the stadium where I started my college career as a freshman,” he said. “So to come back and to have probably my last indoor track and field meet here, it’ll just be like a full-circle moment.”
Those feelings only add to the event at hand. Garland (6,415 points) and Owens-Delerme (6,237 points) are the top-seeded entries in the men’s heptathlon, far and away one of the most competitive fields this weekend.
“This is going to be a historic competition,” Garland said. “I don’t really have too many words to describe it other than it’s going to be something absolutely epic over the next few days,” Garland said.
• A little less than a month ago, Aleia Hobbs set a new American record in the women’s 60 meter with a blazing 6.94 at the USATF Indoor Championships.
Of course, Julien Alfred took notice. The only woman to break seven seconds in the 60 in NCAA history (6.97 seconds at the Big 12 Championships in February), the Texas sprinter and Saint Lucia native is returning to the spot where she’s set her own record two times before.
When asked why 60 meter runners have fared so well in Albuquerque, Alfred only shrugged and said she wasn’t sure.
“Some people say it’s the altitude,” she said, “and I don’t think we always have to talk about the altitude but also people’s preparation, training and how hard they work.”