By Dave Wagner: Freedom New Mexico
PORTALES — If the Eastern New Mexico University men didn’t scare Abilene Christian’s 20-time Lone Star Conference champion last fall, it’s safe to say they got the Wildcats’ attention.
The Greyhounds ran a strong second to ACU in the LSC, and the bulk of their team returns.
Meantime, ENMU’s women finished fourth in the conference meet, also the best showing for the program.
Mike Harney takes over after serving as Eric Boll’s assistant for three years, and he is highly optimistic.
“Over the past (few) years, I’ve recruited a certain type of kid that I think fits into the program,” Harney said. “I think we’re right where we need to be.”
Senior Mohamed Noor, a native of Somalia, leads the returnees after finishing second at the LSC meet. He said there’s more competition in practice this time.
“We have a great team,” he said. “We have four guys who run together every day in practice, and we really push each other.”
Other returnees for the Hounds are juniors Jacob Lozano of Hobbs and Justin Netcher of Clovis and senior Casey Robertson of Columbus Junction, Iowa. Help should come from senior Tallam Kipruto of Nairobi, Kenya, and juniors Isaiah Samoei of Eldoret, Kenya, and Tyler Saiz of Albuquerque, all transfers.
Harney said ENMU will host the conference meet in 2012.
“We would absolutely love to win a conference championship (this year) and defend it on our own turf,” he said. “If we have health and focus, the sky’s the limit for the men’s program — and the women’s program, for that matter.”
The Zias have been a little slower to come along, but made big strides last year behind senior Nicky Reid of Pueblo, Colo., fourth in last year’s LSC meet, and sophomore Adrienne Montoya of Estancia, who was 11th.
As a top-10 finisher, Reid was the second Zias runner to earn All-LSC honors and the first since 2003.
Newcomers include Sabrina Huelga of Lancaster, Calif.; Sofie Ingram of Boynton Beach, Fla., and Beth Blind of Kennedale, Texas, all freshmen.
“Our team is looking good,” Reid said. “It’s refreshing to have people to run with. We have a really good top pack this year.”
Harney reiterated that it could be a big year, and said his athletes are focused.
“With the kids returning, they know they have a great opportunity to do something special,” he said. “On top of that, there’s no complacency on this team.”