The runners, jumpers and throwers of the UNM Lobos track and field team will have elite company today and Saturday at the Albuquerque Convention Center.
New Mexico has invited about 930 athletes to take part in the Don Kirby Elite Invitational, an indoor meet that includes Olympians and NCAA champions on its entry list.
“The competition is unbelievable,” UNM coach Joe Franklin said. “The women’s 60 will be very good. The 4×400 relays, men’s and women’s, will be very good. The men’s mile will be good. There are good people everywhere. There are no bad events.”
Vashti Cunningham, an Olympic high jumper and the reigning world indoor champion, is listed as a competitor. The daughter of former NFL quarterback Randall Cunningham competes professionally for Nike. The women’s high jump begins at 6:15 p.m. today and also features former NCAA indoor heptathlon champion Erica Bougard.
The top-ranked Oregon women are bringing 2016 Olympic sprinters Deajah Stevens and Ariana Washington. Sasha Wallace, who has the top NCAA time in the 60 hurdles this season, also will represent the Ducks and will face the likes of Tobi Amusan of UTEP, Micha Auzenne of San Diego State and Lorenda Holston of Colorado State — all with top-10 times this year.
The Oregon men, ranked No. 2 in the nation, are sending Damarcus Simpson, who set the school record in the long jump two weeks ago. He will face one of the nation’s top sprinters in Arkansas State’s Jaylen Bacon in the 60-meter dash.
The Lobos, too, will have talent on display.
Triple jumper Janell Hadnot broke the UNM record last week with her effort of 43 feet, 6 inches.
New Mexico’s mile relay team of Cheyne Dorsey, Isaac Gonzales, Carlos Salcido and Mark Haywood will attempt to crack the school record. They missed the mark by less than a second with their clocking of 3:13.27 last week.
The Lobos have also been a pleasant surprise in the throws, particularly Amaris Blount, a junior from Rio Rancho, and Allison Mady, a junior from La Cueva.
“They’re getting better and better,” Franklin said. “Allie has the fourth-best mark (in school history) in the shot. And Amaris is third in the conference in the weight throw. … Last year they were intimidated. This year they’re not.”
Franklin credits assistant Matt Hull, a former UNM pole vaulter, with helping them develop.
“They’re conference-level scorers, which we haven’t had in a while,” Franklin said.
Also watch for UNM sophomore Josh Kerr, who reached the NCAA Championships in the 1,500 meters during the outdoor season as a freshman and is competing for the first time indoors collegiately. Two-time NCAA mile qualifier Elmar Engholm will also race for the Lobos.
New Mexico senior Sophie Connor, who was fifth in the mile at last year’s NCAA indoor meet, is entered. Also competing will be senior Kathryn Fluehr and sophomore Natasha Bernal, who are set to run in the 3,000.
Franklin is happy with the progress of his pole vaulters, including junior Katherine Whiting. She will compete with the likes of former NCAA champion Kristen Brown.
New Mexico State, Eastern New Mexico, New Mexico Highlands and New Mexico Junior College will also participate. Aggies Crissey and Cassey Amberg of Eldorado are scheduled to compete in the mile.
Franklin said there are a variety of reasons UNM can put together an elite indoor meet.
“Teams love flying into Albuquerque,” he said. “The ease of travel. When you go to other universities, the travel is very difficult. The meets are always on time. Once (UNM assistant) Rich Ceronie sets the time schedule, barring an electrical issue, there are not any changes, which is rare. The track itself. The city has done a phenomenal job maintaining the track. And the competition level. We have just about every Pac-12 team showing up.”
UNM will be off next week in anticipation of the Mountain West Conference meet that will be in Albuquerque on Feb. 23-25.
“We’re a good, solid, well-rounded team that keeps getting better,” Franklin said.
NOTE: The UNM men’s and women’s cross country teams were named All-Academic teams by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association on Thursday. Lobos Alice Wright and Calli Thackery earned individual All-Academic honors. Both will compete at the Husky Classic indoor track meet in Washington today and Saturday.