Top track and field athletes from CSU and the rest of the Mountain West Conference meet up Thursday for the indoor conference championships in Albuquerque, N.M. The Rams will bring a strong team to New Mexico, including six NCAA Championship qualifiers.
Although track and field is often looked at as an individual sport, athletes from all nine Mountain West schools will focus on a team championship this week.
"This time of year, track is a team sport; one point can make the difference," said head coach Del Hessel, referring to two narrow defeats for the Rams in the 2004 and 2005 MWC Championships. Hessel and the Rams hope the phrase "third time's a charm" will apply to them.
The unique format of the conference championships allows only 28 athletes per team to compete. However, coaches are allowed to choose which of their athletes will compete in each event, allowing each team to be constructed around its strengths.
"We're going to have a very balanced squad out there," Hessel said of the make-up of this week's team. "Generally balanced teams do better than teams centered around a couple of events."
The Rams look balanced on the men and women's side, with 26 throwers, runners and jumpers ranked in the top three of the MWC in their events. Some athletes may be rusty since the team has not competed in almost two weeks. But the Rams' roster still looks dangerous in many events.
Junior Janay Deloach enters the meet as the top seed in the long jump. The same can be said for junior Rob Watson in the men's 5,000-meter and freshman Chantelle Dron in the women's mile. Earlier this year, junior Drew Morano recorded the second fastest time in school history in the 400-meter, while senior Jill McCormick and junior Trey Eder, both throwers, qualified for the NCAA Championships next month in Arkansas.
Thursday will also be the team's first chance to compete following Hessel's announcement to retire after the outdoor season. Hessel is very excited for what looks to be his last MWC Championships.
"This is one of my favorite meets," he said. "All the teams make it very interesting."
While all the teams figure to be competitive in different events, CSU has a few teams specifically in mind.
"BYU is always a tough team," Hessel said. "They beat us by five points two years ago and last year by just three."
CSU is looking to avenge those close defeats with a victory this weekend, but things will not be easy for the Rams. The two-time defending MWC Champion Cougars have five returning All-American athletes from last year's squad.
TCU will also be among the elite squads this weekend. The Horned Frogs feature many good sprinters on both sides, but perhaps their best athlete is senior distance runner Jackson Langat. Born in Kenya, Langat has been honored as an All-American four times so far in his indoor and outdoor career.
Although Hessel is extremely confident in his team's abilities, he is also well aware of how good the competition is.
"Every team brings something different to the meet, every team has potential to upset the favorites in each event," he said. "I'm really looking forward to it."
The pentathlon and heptathlon events will start things off Thursday morning at the Albuquerque Convention Center.
Drew Gonzales can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org