As students and faculty prepare for the fall semester to begin, a lot of people might be unaware of the heights the University of New Mexico track and field team climbed to during the break.
A group of women — Adva Cohen, Weini Kelati, Ednah Kurgat and Charlotte Prouse combined forces at the 2019 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships to tally a school-record 27 points. The performances were enough to notch a top-10 finish overall.
The Lobo women finished eighth in the standings and registered the best school that was posted from a non-power five school. Head coach Joe Franklin admitted that New Mexico was "not even in the same ballpark" in terms of resources when compared to some of the other high-profile programs.
"What these women continue to do is nothing short of remarkable," Franklin said. "They are just so driven."
Franklin said the beauty of the sport is that the trails and the tracks are something student-athletes can prepare for and be ready to compete in regardless of the venue. He referenced the famous scene from the movie "Hoosiers" where coach Norman Dale, played by Gene Hackman, has his players confirm the dimensions of the basketball court the team was about to play on in the big game was exactly the same as those at the gym back home.
Preparation and conditioning seemed to be key for the Lobos, as the UNM women were able to withstand sweltering temperatures and humidity. Franklin said temps surpassed 100 degrees on the track surface and reached about 50 percent humidity, which proved to be too much for even some of the fittest student-athletes.
New Mexico has grown accustomed to seeing gritty performances on the national stage. Courtney Frerichs broke the record for the women's steeplechase in 2016 and Josh Kerr garnered back-to-back national championships in the men's one-mile run in 2017 and 2018.
Franklin said he never wants to take it for granted because special athletes like the ones that have come through the UNM program are so rare. He said following up two collegiate record holders in Frerichs and Kerr with Kurgat and Kelati is amazing. The bar has been set very high and remarkable performances and careers have been the benchmark now for some time.
"Not to minimize it, but that's the expectation," he said. "When kids come here, they give themselves the chance to be the best they can possibly be."
Kelati competed in both the 10,000-meter and 5,000-meter events, with less than 48 hours rest in between and her individual national championship in the former was one that didn't come without drama.
The conditioning seemed evident as Franklin recounted how Kelati's 20-meter lead with about a lap remaining dissipated. He said she got caught from behind with approximately 50 meters left in the race but had the fortitude to sprint and reclaim the lead — ultimately securing her individual national championship.
Despite expending so much energy to win that event, she was still able to turn around and register a fifth-place finish in the 5,000 as well.
New Mexico's consistency in both indoor and outdoor track and field, as well as a runner-up performance in the Cross Country National Championships was rewarded with another prestigious honor.
UNM ended up in second place for National Program of the Year by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) — finishing behind Oregon.
Franklin seemed proud of the distinction, noting that there is a formula that is used to determine the winner and things are based on performance.
"You have to be well-rounded and be able to score in all of the different components, which is very hard to do," he said.
But the Lobos continue to do so against the best runners in the country and there likely won't be a drop off anytime soon. Kelati and Kurgat still have eligibility remaining and the staff seems to have a knack for maximizing potential and could have one of the next big names already honing the necessary skills to keep the program moving forward.
Cross country will get its season underway later this month when UNM hosts the Lobo Invitational on Aug. 31 at UNM North Golf Course.
Robert Maler is a sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and baseball and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler