Before the interview even started, Head Coach Jon Warren (Jones '88) stated, "Let's talk about [the] UTEP [Invitational]." Clearly Warren's directive nature was not coming from a disappointment at the way the men's track team had performed at the 84th Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays in Austin and Trinity University's Tiger Relays in San Antonio, but rather because there were just 14 Owls spread among the two meets. Still, junior Lee Johnson's performances in the 110 and 400 meter hurdles at the Tiger Relays were something to talk about. Johnson took first place in the 110 meter hurdles with a season-best time of 14.95 seconds, currently the eighth-best time by any Conference USA runner. Additionally, Johnson's time of 55.89 seconds was good for second place in the 400 meter hurdles. Warren was pleased at the way several different athletes have stepped up each weekend.
"Lee was really the guy that you could point to as the guy with the most success this weekend," Warren said. "You've got him this week, then [senior] Michael [Trejo] last week and [junior] Alex [Zinchenko] the week before, and those are just the names that pop out at me."
Johnson spoke about what he would need to do to keep the podium in sight at the C-USA Championship in May.
"Getting a medal in either hurdle race would be be a huge accomplishment for me," Johnson said. "There is a lot of good competition in C-USA, though, and right now we have a lot of guys running fast, including some of my teammates. The biggest thing at this point is confidence. I think if I keep improving at meets, working on execution, I'll put myself into position to do well at conference."
Freshman Will Beasley ran his sprint in 11.21 seconds to take seventh. Redshirt sophomore Jack Spinks rounded out the Owls competitors with a 20th place finish. Junior Jordan Hmaidan ran the 800 meter run in 2:02 to take ninth place, and freshmen Travis Roberts and Wyatt Doop ran the 1,500 meter run in 4:01 and 4:03, respectively. Roberts' time gave him third place, while Doop ended up in fifth and redshirt freshman Zach Casias was 13th. Warren spoke about the times turned in by Roberts and Doop.
"Those guys are just three or four seconds off of what they can run," Warren said. "It was pretty hot on Saturday, and with Wyatt being from Minnesota, that was a great performance all things considered."
Spinks also continued to fine-tune his events for the decathlon, throwing the javelin 46.26 meters (151' 9") to finish second. Warren spoke about Spinks' potential in the event.
"It's just one of the 10 events [in the decathlon], but Jack can probably eventually throw for 60 meters," Warren said.
Turning to the competition in Austin, it was redshirt sophomore James Llamas who took 12th place in the 3,000 meter steeplechase. The jumpers had decent showings as well, with senior Ugo Nduaguba taking 10th in the triple jump with a mark of 14.85 meters (48' 8.75"), while freshman Justin Gross jumping 6.75 meters (22' 1.75") in the long jump to grab 15th place. Zinchenko finished ninth in the shot put with a best throw of 16.27 meters (53' 4.5"). Senior Connor Hayes and junior Collin Shurbet competed in the 400-meter hurdles as well, running 54.26 and 54.29 seconds, respectively. Johnson talked about the competitive nature that exists between him, Hayes and Shurbet.
"Even though I had a really strong 110 race and an off week in the 400s, I think I definitely have more potential in the 400 hurdles," Johnson said. "While we do a lot of 110 work, Connor, Collin, and I have a nice little rivalry going in the 400s that should help us run some pretty fast times."
Turning to the UTEP Invitational, the entire team save for the long distance runners will be present in West Texas this weekend, with Warren expecting to get a boost from having sophomore Donte Moore back from spring football practice. Moore is expected to compete alongside senior Jacob Owolabi, Hayes, and Shurbet in the 4x400 relay, as well as potentially with the 4x100 relay squad.
"We've got to get Donte back up to longer distances, as strange as that sounds with the 100, 200, and 400 meter distances," Warren said. "He's been training for quick 10 to 30 yard bursts in the last month, and so we think that he'll be able to come back pretty seamlessly. He's our anchor in the 4x400, so it'll be good to get him back."