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Mazza-Downie repeats as champion, Lobos win 15th straight MW title

by Evan O'Kelly

LARAMIE, Wyo. – Adding to their record collection of Mountain West Cross Country Championships titles on Friday morning at Jacoby Golf Course, the University of New Mexico women’s team claimed its 15th consecutive crown while Amelia Mazza-Downie became the second runner in school history to earn back-to-back titles.

The Lobos racked up 24 points with five finishers in the top-10, running a strategic race for a comfortable victory over second-place Colorado State University (61 points). “The women did a great job, and it has been an interchangeable group all year,” said UNM head coach Joe Franklin, who was named the Mountain West Coach of the Year for the 14th time in his career. “Today showed how deep we are, how much we care about each other, and how much want to win.”

Biding their time, the Lobos ran a patient, disciplined race with five runners packed closely together near the lead. The group slowly closed in on Katelyn Mitchem of Wyoming, who came off the opening gun fast and held the lead for the first 12 minutes of the race. “Especially on their home course, we expected them go out hard,” Mazza-Downie commented on Wyoming’s aggressive start to the race. “We knew what was happening, stayed patient, and worked together. We were slowly working on catching whoever was at the front, and we ended up closing so it was good.”

“The goal was to not do any work the first lap, for about the first three kilometers,” Franklin said regarding the team’s strategy on Friday. “Our plan was that if somebody goes, let them go and then just run them down, and that’s what they did. At about four thousand meters we started moving and going towards them.”

Mazza-Downie crossed the line with a time of 19:39.3 minutes, edging Boise State University’s Yasmin Marghini by just over two full seconds. She became just the third runner in conference history to claim back-to-back titles, joining former Lobo Weini Kelati (2018-19) and Boise State University’s Emma Bates (2013-14). “She’s getting up into rarified air with some of the elite women in the NCAA in Kelati and Bates,” Franklin said. “Emma was one of the best in history and Weini was too. Now Amelia is slowly getting to that point, and she has evolved into one of the best runners in the NCAA.”

“I wanted to have the same race plan as last year, and start pressing with 2k to go,” said Mazza-Downie. “Because of the altitude, once I started pushing my goal was to not get caught. I just kept pressing down until the end.”

Emma Heckel, who took second at last year’s championship meet, cruised across the line in 19:42.8 minutes to take third place. Gracelyn Larkin gave the Lobos three of the top-four finishers at the meet, as she clocked a time of 19:49.7 minutes to take fourth place.

Turning in her best-ever finish at the championships in her third time competing at the event, Elise Thorner took sixth place with a time of 19:57.6 minutes. Thorner shattered her PR in the 6k, which had been 20:18.0 set at the Nuttycombe Invitational two weeks ago. Her previous best finish at the Mountain West Championships had been a 13th place finish, which she achieved in the spring of 2021.

Also finishing in the top-10 for the Lobos was Abigail Goldstein, who ran a time of 20:13.2 minutes to hold the No. 10 spot. Goldstein was among three Lobos to earn second-team all-conference honors, with Ali Upshaw and Semira Mebrahtu Firezghi also claiming the award. Upshaw placed 12th with a time of 20:18.9 minutes, and Firezghi was close behind in 14th place with a personal-best time of 20:25.7 minutes.

Sarah Eckel took 17th place in the championship race, with a time of 20:30.3 minutes. That mark was 17.9 seconds faster than her previous collegiate best of 20:48.2, which she clocked at the Nuttycombe Invitational earlier this fall.

Earning the Mountain West Freshman of the Year award, Danielle Verster was the top first-year runner to cross the finish line on Friday. Verster posted a time of 20:35.3 minutes – her personal best in the 6k – and took 22nd place.

Also competing for UNM at the championship was Samantha Valentine, who was just off her PR in the 6k running a time of 21:16.3 minutes to take 42nd place. All 10 of UNM’s runners finished in the upper half among the field of 96 competitors at the event.

“We are all really happy with how this season has been going,” said Mazza-Downie. “Every year we have come into the Mountain West as the champs from the previous year, so it is really important that we keep that going and continue our legacy. We were really happy to do that today.”

“Today was super unique – it’s the first time Amelia has been No. 1 all year,” said Franklin. “Two of our others have been our top runner at meets, and it shows how interchangeable we are at the end of the day. It’s a great group, and if we can get to November healthy there is no telling what they can do.”

New Mexico Lobos Women’s XC Mountain West Champions

Year Runner Time
2022 Amelia Mazza-Downie 19:39.3
2021 Amelia Mazza-Downie 19:37.3
2019 Weini Kelati 19:11.2
2018 Weini Kelati 19:49.3
2017 Ednah Kurgat 19:58.77
2016 Alice Wright 20:02.7
2012 Lacey Oeding 20:49.97
2011 Ruth Senior 20:47.8
2010 Natalie Gray 21:20.7

The New Mexico men’s team finished in sixth place with 140 points, just one point behind fifth-place Boise State University.

Leading the way for the Lobo men in his first Mountain West Championship was senior Kevin Mulcaire, who took 15th place with a time of 24:06.0 minutes. Mulcaire dashed to a sizeable lead from the start of the race, and held the advantage for the first six kilometers of action. His time Friday was a nearly 20-second improvement on his previous collegiate best of 24:25.2 minutes in the 8k.

Finishing just behind Mulcaire in 17th place was Jonathan Carmin, who clocked a time of 24:15.5 minutes in the third 8k of his young collegiate career. “Kevin and Jonathan ran really well,” said Franklin. “Kevin came out a little too aggressive in his first race at elevation, but he had heart and went after it. That’s something our team needs. Our back end was a little off today, but those front two guys worked really hard.”

Senior Abdirizak Ibrahim took 32nd place in his third-career conference meet, running a time of 24:45.9 minutes.

Veteran Nehemiah Cionelo, competing at the MW Championships for the fourth time, placed 34th with a time of 24:47.5 minutes. Awet Yohannes capped his senior season with a time of 25:24.8 minutes to place 50th, while Yehonatan Haim placed 54th with a time of 25:29.5 minutes.

Also competing for the Lobos were redshirt freshmen Joshua Galindo and Ethan Brouw, who each got a taste of their first championship event. Galindo took 67th place in a time of 27:19.8 minutes, while Brouw following in 68th place at 27:39.5 minutes in his first collegiate 8k.

Air Force Academy swept the top-three individual men’s spots to claim its third-straight team title, posting 21 points to hold off second-place Colorado State University (51 points). Air Force’s Sean Maison was the individual champion on the men’s side, running a time of 23:37.8 minutes.

LOBO NOTES: Mazza-Downie became the seventh Lobo to win the conference title when she claimed the 2021 crown, and her victory Friday gave the program nine total individual championships since the 2010 season…the same seven athletes were all named the MW Women’s Athlete of the Year, giving the Lobo program nine such honors…Verster was the sixth Lobo to earn the Mountain West Freshman of the Year award, joining Andrea Modin Engeseath (’20), Larkin (’19), Kelati (’17), Lacey Oeding (’08), and Vanessa Ortiz (’06)…Friday marked the eighth time in program history that UNM has had five finishers in the top-10 at the conference meet: 2009 (2-3-4-7-8), 2010 (1-2-3-6-8), 2013 (2-4-7-8-10), 2014 (4-5-6-8-10), 2015 (2-4-5-6-7-8), 2020 (2-4-6-7-10), 2021 (1-2-3-4-5-6-7), 2022 (1-3-4-6-10).

COMING UP: The Lobos will play host to the 2022 NCAA Mountain Regional, scheduled for Nov. 11.

“We are really excited to have regionals at home, with it being our course,” said Mazza-Downie. “It’s two weeks out from nationals, and by the time we get there we are all going to be really fit and ready to go. We are all getting fitter each week, and by then will be in our best shape.”