COLLEGE STATION, Texas — ack in 2009, in Gilliam Indoor Stadium, Lobo Lee Emanuel won his first of two national titles in the mile run.
Eight years later, on the same track, Lobo Josh Kerr won his own.
Kerr, a redshirt freshman for the University of New Mexico track & field team, captured the NCAA title in the mile in 4 minutes, 3.22 seconds during the final day of the 2017 NCAA Division I Indoor Track and Field Championships on Saturday.
Kerr, from Edinburgh, Scotland, held off Oregon’s Edward Cheserek, largely considered one of the best distance runners in NCAA history, during the final three laps in the finals, becoming the second Lobo in program history — along with Emanuel — to win a national title in the mile.
“We’ve had some good luck in Texas A&M running on that track,” New Mexico head coach Joe Franklin said. “It was very reminiscent of what Lee Emanuel did when he won the mile title in 2009. Those races played out eerily similar.”
Kerr is the first national titlist for UNM track & field as a whole since last June, when Courtney Frerichs won the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2016 NCAA Outdoor Championships. He is also the Lobos’ first titlist indoors since Kendall Spencer won the indoor long jump in 2012.
Overall, Kerr’s win is the 14th individual title in program history, and the 13th for the men’s track & field team indoors or outdoors.
It was a tremendous end for the Lobos to the two-day championships, as New Mexico also collected top-10 finishes from Alice Wright in the 5,000-meter run and the men’s distance medley relay.
Along with solid showings from Sophie Connor (mile) and Jannell Hadnot (triple jump), the Lobos posted a strong team showing at the national championships. By dint of Kerr’s win, the UNM men finished tied for 22nd place in the team standings with 10 team points.
“All the student-athletes that we brought here did every they could to be successful,” Franklin said. “And to come away with the meet that we had is great.”
Kerr put the exclamation mark on the meet with his tremendous race in the mile, upsetting Cheserek, a 17-time NCAA individual champion across cross country, indoor and outdoor track.
The race opened extremely bunched, with virtually no separation through the first three laps around the 200-meter track inside Gilliam Indoor Stadium. Kerr slid up to second place through 800 meters, with Cheserek — a master of racing with the pack early and kicking to a win late — racing right behind.
However, Kerr made his ultimate move with just over three laps remaining, taking over the lead at 1200 meters via a split of 27.41 on his sixth lap. Cheserek had no answer to Kerr’s surge forward, with Kerr opening up enough of lead for a two-second win.
Kerr finished in 4:03.22 for the win, with Cheserek in second with a time of 4:05.42.
“When you go, you have to go and make sure you’re going hard and pushing,” Franklin said. “And that’s we talked about before the race. You always have race plans. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. This one worked.”
Kerr is the fourth male athlete in Mountain West history to win the NCAA title in the mile, joining Wyoming’s Bryan Berryhill (2001), Emanuel and BYU’s Miles Batty (2011).
Also on Saturday, Hadnot finished 14th in the triple jump with a leap of 42 feet even (12.80 meters). She opened with a mark of 41 feet, three inches (12.57 meters), and improved to her mark of 42 feet on her second attempt.
She just missed on her third jump, a foul, and finished the three-attempt trials in 14th.
“Jannell had a big last jump that would have gotten her into the finals,” Franklin said. “… But she jumped incredibly well, but just not enough to make the finals. She did a fantastic job.” .
On Friday, Wright ran to ninth place in the 5,000-meter run, finishing with a new personal-record time of 15:56.24. She started the race near the back of the 16-athlete field, sitting in 13th place for the first 3000 meters. However, during the fourth kilometer of the race, Wright moved up a few slots, running up to ninth place with a kilometer remaining.
“Alice ran great,” Franklin said. “She’s struggled a little the last 10 days with some soreness and did an outstanding job. Her consistency at such an elite level is a testament to her determination.”
Wright finished with the second-best time in program history and is the second-highest NCAA finisher in the indoor 5K in program history. Only Sarah Waldron (eighth place, 2010) has placed higher.
In the DMR, Elmar Engholm, Mark Haywood, Kristian Hansen Uldbjerg and Graham Thomas combined for a 10th-place clocking of 9:46.87.
Engholm got the foursome off to a good start, running a split of 2:58.71 over the 1200-meter leg to put UNM in sixth place. Haywood followed with a 400-meter split of 49.23, with Hansen chipping in a split of 1:50.48 over his 800-meter leg. Thomas anchored the squad with a 1600-meter split of 4:08.46.
“The DMR ran well,” Franklin said. “We got jostled a little at the beginning, but nothing significant. We were in a scoring position and that’s all you want, a position to score. We weren’t able to get it done, but the guys ran great.”
The relay’s time is good for the 10th-fastest in program history. Engholm, Haywood, Hansen and Kerr combined to set the UNM record at 9:30.07 in a win at the MW Championships last month.
“After the mile prelims, we decided to pull Josh off and give him a chance in the mile, which worked out very well in his favor,” Franklin said.
Additionally, Sophie Connor capped her Lobo career in the women’s mile prelims, running to 15th place with a time of 4:45.36. After a strong start through the first half mile, Connor couldn’t maintain her pace over the final three laps.
“Sophie gave it her all,” Franklin said. “In those sit-and-kick races, sometimes it’s your day and sometimes it’s not. And she gave it her all.”
The Lobos have concluded the indoor season and are scheduled to open their outdoor season on March 25 as they travel to El Paso, Texas, for the UTEP Springtime Invitational.