Conference Champions!

Conference+Champions%21

Distance runner Anthony Rotich (left) and Cosmas Boit (right) finish first and second respectively in the 3,000 meter run.

Edwin Delgado, Sports Editor

The UTEP men’s track and field conquered the Conference USA indoor track and field championships on March 1 in Birmingham, Ala., led by distance runner junior Anthony Rotich and senior jumper/sprinter Mark Jackson,

“It’s big, this is probably one of the best experiences we can get as a team,” said head coach Mika Laaksonen. “For the most part, everyone had competed on individual events and this time it took a team effort to bring the first-place trophy.”

Rotich successfully defended his three crowns from last year, winning gold in the 5,000-meters, the 3,000-meters and the one-mile run.

Mark Jackson also obtained titles in three different competitions—the long jump, triple jump and the 60-meter dash.

Rotich and Jackson obtained 60 of the Miners’ 123 points in the competition en route to securing the first indoor title for the Miners since the 2006 season.

“Both (Rotich and Jackson) had an unbelievable meet. I don’t know how much more you could ask from them. Each gave us 30 points, so that helped us a lot,” Laaksonen said.

The Miners finished with a 45.5 edge on second-place Louisiana Tech, who finished with 77.5 points, followed by East Carolina with 71.5.

“The cooperation and work of all of our coaches has led to a big improvement,” Rotich said. “The work that everyone is doing every single day has made the difference for us and the reason we’ve been doing so well.”

Rotich and Jackson were named the top male performers of the competition and Laaksonen was recognized with the Coach of the Year Award.

“Anthony Rotich and Mark Jackson are ready for the nationals, I am confident. They need some rest after the conference,” Laaksonen said. “This win will boost their confidence, not that they lack any, but they’ll have no issues in two weeks.”

Despite overwhelming the competition on the men’s side, the women’s team failed to duplicate the men’s success and finished in fifth place.

UTEP’s women won three different events. Senior sprinter Janice Jackson finished first in the 60-meters with hurdles, with a time of 8.18 seconds. The 4×400-relay team finished with a time of three minutes, 41.80 seconds, while Nickeava Wilson claimed gold in the triple jump.

East Carolina took the crown in the women’s championships with a total of 88 points, followed by UTSA with 73, UAB 71.5, Louisiana Tech with 65 and UTEP with 62.

“We knew the women had some strong events that were going to help us score some points, like 60-meter hurdles, long jump, triple jump, 200 meters and 4 x 400,” Laaksonen said. “We didn’t score points outside of those events, so it went pretty much according to the script.”

The men’s team, who was ranked No. 12 in the country before the championships, could move up to the top 10 after winning this title.

The Miners will have two weeks to prepare for the NCAA Track and Field Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, N.M., which will take place on March 15-16.

“Nationals is a much tougher race, everyone is very fast and the difference between one another is probably less than two seconds and everyone is capable of wining,” Rotich said. “The difference will be in who is more focused.”

Edwin Delgado may be reached at [email protected]