University of New Mexico Scottish sophomore Josh Kerr runs to the NCAA Division I outdoors 1,500-meter championship after winning the National indoors mile run back in March
Kerr had the finishing kick that couldn’t be matched, while Lobos’ junior Alice Wright ran second in the 10,000 meters at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon.
By Arnie Leshin (courtesy photo by UNM Lobos)
Realizing he was the target, the one to beat, University of New Mexico sophomore Josh Kerr cast it all aside and ran to the NCAA Division One 1,500-meter championship Friday at Oregon’s historic Hayward Field in Eugene.
With his homeland in Scotland a long way from here, Kerr was wearing the uniform that represented his Lobos home away from home in Albuquerque, as he followed up his indoor mile championship back in March.
Here, he entered the outdoor championships as the top seed after qualifying in 3:35.99, the eighth fastest in collegiate history, and faced a strong finals field of 11 runners. Before the race, he spoke of his confidence and will to pull this off.
“I’m pretty much confident,” said the native of Edinburgh. “The guys I’m racing against are really quality runners and I need to be on my game. But right now, I’m ready to go.”
So were the others. It was a slow start and Kerr found himself in 9th place after the first 300 meters in 46.04. At 700 meters, his time was 1:49.06 and he moved into third place. That’s where he was at 110 meters as the tight stretch run began on the bell lap.
There, he took the lead, trusted his kick and what he had left to sprint down the homestretch and stay there until the finish. If the pressure was on him, he handled it well, finishing in 3:43.03. His last lap of 54.05 was the fastest of the event, as was his time of 1:03.02 over the second lap.
He sped to the line a few strides ahead of Michigan sophomore Justine Kiprotich, who timed 3:43.50.
This was the highlight of a tremendous season for Kerr. He burst onto the scene when he won the indoor mile run title at College Station, Texas. He also ran the sixth-fastest 1,500 time to win at the Bryan Clay Invitational in April.
On this day, he also had to deal with cool and overcast weather, and the race began under a light rain with little separation among the runners. Even though he was ninth after one lap, Kerr wasn’t far from the front as he set his strategy.
“I felt comfortable,” he said after he dropped to his knees in joy of his victory, “and was able to handle the pace pretty well. We all kicked. That’s the hardest part about these kind of races, everyone is still in the race, so it doesn’t matter how slow it is.”
Kerr’s triumph was the program’s first outdoors since Courtney Frerichs last year won the 3,000 steeplechase. It was also the school’s first men’s national title since Art Baxter won the triple jump in 1967.
Kerr, the first to sweep the NCAA indoor mile and outdoor 1,500 since Texas’ Leo Manzano in 2008, was one of four UNM qualifiers to make it to the nationals.
Alice Wright, a redshirt junior, had to settle for the runner-up spot in the tight 10,000 meters. She hung with the pack’s frontrunners from the start of the 24-athlete field and took the lead of the 25-lap event near the midway point.
She maintained it until the final two laps, as eventual winner, Charlotte Taylor of University of San Francisco, raced by to win in 32:38.57. Wright held onto second place over the last 800 meters to clock 32:42.64 and claim her third straight All-America honor. Third was Sharon Lokedi of Kansas in 32:46.10.
Wright is one of two athletes in the NCAA to earn All-America honors in the 10K each of the last three years. Her time on Thursday was the 10th-best in meet history.
There was also the Lobos’ Sam Trigg in the triple jump, and he went 52-41/2 to place eighth and gain All-America honors.
“I went into the finals in ninth place,” said the Plymouth, England athlete, “and on one of my last jumps in America, I made the All-America team. To me, that was awesome.”
Trigg is the first Lobo to score in the event since Floyd Ross in 2013, and just the fifth UNM man to place top-eight in program history.
The lone state qualifier completed the quartet, with senior Graham Thomas of Dulce, NM, putting the final touches on his UNM career by competing in the grueling 3,000-meter steeplechase.
He finished 20th overall in the preliminary round in 9:01.75. He was just the sixth Lobo in program history to make the NCAA championships in the steeplechase.
None of the four competed in the cherry red and silver UNM colors, wearing instead turquoise tops with red lettering and red shorts to compete at Track Town USA.