Tough, elite and top: those are the adjectives that describe what kind of competition the New Mexico men’s and women’s track and field teams will be facing this weekend.
There will be six top-25 teams on the men’s side and four top-25 teams on the women’s side when UNM hosts the Cherry and Silver Invitational at the Albuquerque Convention Center.
“The level of competition goes up tenfold,” UNM head coach Joe Franklin said in a release on golobos.com. “If you’re not ready to compete, you’re going to get blown off the track.”
Three of the schools coming to the invitational have both men’s and women’s teams ranked in the top 25: Georgia (No. 13 men, No. 5 women), the University of Texas (No. 1 women, No. 15 men) and Florida State University (No. 7 men, No. 19 women).
FSU in particular will bring three athletes from its National Championship football team, who beat Auburn 34-31 in the BCS National Championship game on January 6.
The other schools that have a men’s or women’s team ranked are Arizona (No. 17 men), Arkansas (No. 7 women), Stanford (No. 20 men) and the University of Texas at El Paso (No. 22 men). Other big name schools include Clemson, South Carolina and Southern California.
Both Lobo men’s and the women’s teams lost a key runner from last year’s squads, Floyd Ross and Josephine Moultrie. Ross was First-Team Indoor All-American in 2012 and 2013.
Franklin said that there are three runners who could have a breakout year on the men’s side including Ridge Jones, a UNM football player who is ranked first in the Mountain West in the 60-meter dash, Carlos Wiggins, a wide receiver for the UNM football team, and Adam Bitchell, who is ranked first in the NCAA in the 5-kilometer.
As for the women, Franklin said Yeshemabet Turner, who finished third in the long jump last weekend at the Lobo Collegiate Invitational, could have a big season ahead of her.
“We have great individuals,” Franklin said. “We have well-rounded people.”
For the first time in school history, UNM will host the Indoor NCAA Championships and the USA Championships in the same year.
“It’s a year that’s essentially unprecedented in the University of New Mexico and the state of New Mexico being that we’re hosting the NCAA Championships and the USA Championships in the same year,” Franklin said. “The expectations are to make sure that you get enough people to those competitions.”
This is the first year that UNM will be able to compete in the USA Championships due to the Mountain West championships being a week before the competition in years past.
The NCAA Championships will be held March 14 and 15 at the Convention Center in Downtown Albuquerque and the USA Championships will be held Feb. 21-23.