Conference championship in sight

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Conference championship in sight

UTEP, ranked No. 12 nationally is the overwhelming favorite to win the Conference USA indoor track and field championships.

UTEP, ranked No. 12 nationally is the overwhelming favorite to win the Conference USA indoor track and field championships.

Michaela Roman

UTEP, ranked No. 12 nationally is the overwhelming favorite to win the Conference USA indoor track and field championships.

Michaela Roman

Michaela Roman

UTEP, ranked No. 12 nationally is the overwhelming favorite to win the Conference USA indoor track and field championships.

Javier Cortez, Staff Reporter

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Finishing second in the Conference USA Championships is not a goal for the UTEP men’s track and field team, they want to win it all. This week the Miners are heading to Birmingham, Ala. to compete in the conference indoor championships on Feb. 28 and March 1.

Each week it seems like the Miners are moving up in the national rankings. Coming into the season ranked 22nd in the nation in the pre-season polls, they now sit at 12th.

The Miners are heading into the championships as the favorites, but head coach Mika Laaksonen is wary about the conference’s new competition.

“We have seven new teams in the conference,” Laaksonen said. “We have never competed against these teams indoor or outdoor, so we really don’t know what it is going to be like. On paper it looks like we have a very strong chance of winning the conference, but until all the entries are in and the meet gets going you really don’t know.”

The men’s track and field team is led by All-American Anthony Rotich. The junior holds the fastest time in three individual events: the mile, the 3,000-meter run and the 5,000-meter run, along with the fastest time in the distance medley.

“You try to get value out of every athlete, Anthony (Rotich) is one of those guys that has a lot of value,” Laaksonen said. “He is very valuable to our team, but he is not the only guy, he can’t do it by himself. He is a team captain, so we expect a lot out of him and a lot of poise from him.”

Not only does Rotich hold the fastest times in three events, he absolutely owns them. None of his competitors in Conference USA  come close to his times. The conference championships will merely be a warm-up to the NCAA indoor championships for Rotich. Last year, Rotich set a personal best in the conference championships.

“Running a personal best in conference is tough,” Rotich said. “Although I did it last year, it is very hard. What’s more important is scoring points. Personally though, I think I am in good shape and the team itself is stronger. If we do what we did last year, we will win the conference.”

Along with Rotich, the Miners have a slew of talent.

Freshman Cosmas Boit is the second-best distance runner in the conference, senior Mark Jackson is one of the best sprinters and jumpers in conference and junior Abiola Onakoya is a contender in the 200-meter and 400-meter dash. The Miners are loaded in short, mid and long-distance running.

“We feel pretty good going into the championships,” said jumper/sprinter Jackson. “We’re getting everyone healthy and strong. If we don’t win it, we would feel that we underachieved. We have the talent and if we go out there and do what we are capable of I don’t see us losing.”

The Miners are looking to carry over their success from last year, when the Miners won the Conference USA outdoor championships in Houston. A win in Birmingham might just be the extra push to get the Miners ranked inside the top 10 nationally.

“The indoor season has been very good to us,” Laaksonen said. “We had three excellent meets prior to the championships and that’s why the men are ranked 12th in the nation.”

Javier Cortez may be reached at [email protected]

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