ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- To the Anglican transplants competing in this week’s 2014 NCAA Division I Men’s Indoor Track and Field Championship as New Mexico Lobos, the approaching end of their NCAA careers signifies more than academic and athletic change.
What will they miss most about their adopted state?
“Cereal and toast were pretty much our options before we came here,” senior Adam Bitchell of Aberystwyth, Wales, said.
He and Caldwell say the answer to the green-chili question would be an absolute “No” in the British Isles. But with the outdoor season yet to come, both men hope to create a more lasting memory once the two-day NCAA indoor competition begins Friday at the Albuquerque Convention Center.
As the host institution for this season’s Division I indoor nationals, New Mexico will be represented by Bitchell and Caldwell in the 5,000 meters, sophomore Elmar Engholm in the mile and Kendall Spencer in the long jump.
That’s healthy representation for a program on the rise, not only in the Mountain West Conference, but, perhaps nationally. The Lobos are fresh off indoor conference championships for both the men’s and women’s programs – the second consecutive such title for the men and first for the women.
Head coach Joe Franklin, now in his seventh season, has fostered the momentum. The 2014 sweep of Mountain West indoor titles was a school first. All three of the Lobos’ individual indoor event champions have been crowned during his tenure, including Spencer, who hopes to repeat his 2012 NCAA indoor title in the long jump.
For trivia buffs, Lee Emanuel is New Mexico’s other NCAA indoor champion. He won back-to-back titles in the mile in 2009 and '10. And the 2014 New Mexico qualifiers who will compete on their home track intend not only to show up, but to score. The goal is a top-eight finish for all four athletes.
“We don’t have the numbers to even talk about competing for a team championship, but the athletes we’re sending are good athletes,” Caldwell said. “I think all of us are not only thinking about scoring, we’re expecting to score. We should do very well.”
“This is a great opportunity for not only our university, our city, but also our state, having this group in New Mexico,” Franklin said of hosting the national indoor meet. “There are over 191 schools represented and this is a great opportunity for us to showcase everything that New Mexico is about – the ‘Land of Enchantment.’ ”
A three-time track-and-field All-American, Caldwell is ranked sixth in the 5,000. He finished eighth in the mile at last year’s national indoor meet and is the reigning and two-time Mountain West champion in the 3,000 and 5,000.
“I came out here not really expecting to make NCAA championships on a regular basis, but I have, which is great,” Caldwell said. “I feel like my experience in the past has been trying to run in the middle in the field, and I feel like I’m now beginning to turn a corner and say I can be competitive toward the front of the race.
“And I hope to be involved in the front with a few laps to go. So for that kind of transition to happen going into the home championship is really exciting “
Bitchell, ranked 14th in the 5,000, feels he’s hitting his stride after being unable to compete in the 2013 indoor nationals. He finished third behind Caldwell in the 3,000 final and second in the 5,000 final at the Mountain West indoor championships.
“For me to have that progression over the course of the year, it’s actually quite a fight for these championships,” Bitchell said. “It’s a great, great thing in itself. And obviously to be representing the Lobos’ home track, in front our home crowd, I’m getting butterflies just talking about it. So I think once we step out onto the track, it’s going to be pretty exciting.”
Engholm, a sophomore from Stockholm, Sweden, is ranked 12th in the mile. Spencer, a senior from San Mateo, Calif., recently won his third consecutive Mountain West indoor title in the long jump. He didn’t register a mark in last year’s NCAA indoor meet, but is competing in his school-record, third consecutive such championship.
“This is a great environment to train in,” Bitchell said. “Obviously we’ve got the altitude factor that everyone is talking about. Great places to run. We’ve got a great team and a great coach. So I think everything’s set in place to be able to host a great program over the next few years and we’ll certainly miss it and Albuquerque if we do leave.”
“Everything here is set up really well to give you the opportunity to perform well,” Caldwell said. “So you’ve got no excuse once you’re here. Everything’s in place. It’s just a great position to be in.”