EUGENE, Ore. — Having already won the national title in the mile at the indoor championships in March, Josh Kerr knew the rest of the nation was aiming for him.
“There was a lot of pressure on me because I was ‘the one to watch’,” Kerr said.
But, on the biggest stage in collegiate track & field, Kerr knew he could compete with his competition.
Not only compete, but overcome.
Kerr, a sophomore for the University of New Mexico track & field team, captured the NCAA title in the 1,500-meter run on Friday, punctuating a strong team performance as the Lobos wrapped up competition at the 2017 NCAA Division I Outdoor Track and Field Championships.
Behind a winning kick on the homestretch, Kerr ran a time of 3 minutes, 43.03 seconds to hold off the 12-runner field at Hayward Field in Eugene, becoming the first athlete in program history to win a national title in the event.
The Lobo men, who also earned an All-American performance from Sam Trigg in the triple jump, finished the men’s championship in a tie for 23rd place with 11 team points.
It’s the New Mexico men’s best finish at the NCAA Outdoor Championships since tying for fifth place in 1967 and the most team points scored since 12 in 1984.
The New Mexico women, who saw Alice Wright take second place in the 10,000-meter run Thursday, currently sit tied for 11th in the women’s championships, which conclude Saturday. UNM will not compete in the final day of the women’s meet.
“You bring four people out and three of them are All-Americans with a national champion and a national runner-up,” New Mexico head coach Joe Franklin said. “It’s another very special day.”
Kerr headlined Friday’s action as he capped a tremendous season that saw him burst onto the scene after winning the national title in the mile run at the NCAA Indoor Championships on March 11 in College Station, Texas.
Since then, Kerr ran the sixth-fastest time in NCAA history (3:35.99) at the Bryan Clay Invitational in April, setting him up as the favorite for the 1500-meter title on Friday.
And the Edinburgh, Scotland, native delivered on a cool and overcast day in Eugene.
The race opened relatively slowly under a light ran, with little separation among the runners. Kerr eventually took the lead on the bell lap, unleashing a kick on the homestretch to claim the title.
“I was able to deal with that pace pretty well,” Kerr said. “We all kicked. That’s the hardest part about these kinds of races; everyone is still in the race, so it doesn’t matter how slow it is.”
Kerr ran his final 400 meters in 54.05, the fastest split in the field.
“Josh did a great job of staying out of trouble early,” Franklin said. “It was pretty slow. Then he moved up with maybe 700 meters left and got in a really good position and just started grinding. He beat some really good runners.”
Kerr’s championship is the program’s first outdoors since last year, when Courtney Frerichs won the 3,000-meter steeplechase. Kerr is also the Lobo men’s first titlist outdoors since Art Baxter won the triple jump in 1967.
Overall, Kerr’s win is the 15th individual title in program history, and the 14th for the men’s track & field team indoors or outdoors.
Additionally, Kerr is the first person to sweep the mile and the 1500 at the NCAA Indoor and Outdoor championships since Texas’ Leo Manzano in 2008.
Colorado State’s Bryan Berryhill was the last Mountain West athlete to accomplish the mile/1500 sweep, doing it in 2001. Berryhill is also the only other athlete in conference history to win the 1500.
Trigg also scored for the Lobos on Friday, leaping 52 feet, 4¾ inches to place eighth in the triple jump. After just making the finals of the event, Trigg posted his best leap of the day on his first attempt in finals.
“I’m really please to get that eighth place and All-American,” Trigg said. “I went into the finals in ninth and on one of my last jumps in America, squeezed out an All-American spot.”
Trigg is the first Lobo to score in the triple jump since Floyd Ross in 2013. Trigg is just the fifth UNM man to place top eight in the event in program history.
“Sam did a great job,” Franklin said. “He put on the turquoise jersey for the first time, earned his right to wear turquoise and came out scoring. For him to go out and do that and jump well was great. He did awesome.”
On Thursday, Wright claimed runner-up honors in the women’s 10,000-meter run, picking up her her third straight All-American honor — and second straight second-place finish — in the event.
The redshirt junior from Worcester, England, ran a time of 32:42.64 to become the first female track athlete in UNM history to earn three consecutive All-American honors outdoors.
“To be consistent at an elite level for so long in distance running is very rare,” Franklin said. “And Alice is now the most consistent runner in the NCAA.”
Now a six-time All-American between track and cross country, Wright is the first female athlete in New Mexico history — and third of either gender — to earn three straight All-American honors in the same event.
From Thursday, Thomas put the final touches on his Lobo career as he competed in the 3,000-meter steeplechase.
Thomas, a senior out of Dulce, New Mexico, finished 20th overall in the preliminary round of the men’s steeplechase, finishing the event in 9:01.75. He was just the sixth Lobo in program history to make the NCAA Championships in the steeplechase.