With very little notice, Utah State, which hosts the Mountain West Conference track and field championships this weekend, has quietly enjoyed a resurgence in recent years.
USU athletes rank among the nation’s top 25 in six events:
• Clay Lambourne, 15th, 800 meters, 1:47.31
• Dillon Maggard, 21st, 1,500 meters, 3:42.15
• Dillon Maggard, 11th, 5,000 meters, 13:42.15
• AJ Boully, 7th, 400-meter hurdles, 49.58
• Cierra Simmons, 22nd, 3,000 steeplechase, 10:12.52
• Sindri Gudmundsson, javelin, 239 feet, 8 inches
This does not even count the school’s 4 x 400-meter relay team — which consisted of freshman Michael Bluth, junior Brady Martin and seniors AJ Boully and Josh Gordon — delivered a surprising victory earlier this spring at the prestigious Texas Relays, finishing with a fine time of 3:06.72. Boully also won the 400-meter hurdles in that meet.
All of which is part of a trend. In the last decade, USU has had 16 All-Americans and nine conference athletes of the year. Perhaps the biggest surprise is the rise of the school’s sprint program, which has been the best in the state for several years and among the best in the region.
In the last five years they have had three athletes run under 10.30 in the 100 — Nic Bowens (10.13), Parker Bluth (10.20) and Will Henry (10.25), making them the three fastest in school history.
In the 200, Parker Bluth and Bowens clocked 20.52 and 20.70, respectively last year, the two fastest in school history.
And in the 400, Cole Lambourne, Brady Martin, Boully and Parker Bluth produced times of 46.10, 46.26, 46.43 and 46.56, respectively, the last three years. Only Olympian Mark Enyeart has run faster for the Aggies, timing 45.94 in 1977.
Since 2014, the school’s 4 x 100 relay team has run 39.44 and 39.50, both national-class marks, and in 2016 the team produced one of its finest performances ever by running 3:04.48 in the 4 x 400 relay, averaging 45 seconds per leg.
In all, seven men’s school records have fallen since 2014, four of them in sprint events. Gregg Gensel, USU’s head coach for 29 years, points to the rise of the track program as a whole, but notes, “the sprints have just been developing at a faster pace. Success breeds success. Other sprinters want to come where sprinters are getting good.”
Gensel is the one constant in USU’s success. The Aggies have gone through four sprint coaches in five years but the sprints haven’t missed a beat, and they’re doing it with local and/or regional athletes.
The Mountain West, and especially Utah, produces distance-runners but rarely national-class sprinters, and yet the Aggies have signed sprinters from those areas and developed them. Parker Bluth and Lambourne are Riverton High products; Boully and Bowen are from the Boise, Idaho, area; Martin is from Sky View High in Smithfield.
“Kids are buying into the system and working hard,” says Gensel. “If you don’t buy into it, you fight what the coach wants you to do. They’ve trusted the coaches.”
Martin, only a sophomore, has dropped more than two seconds off his best high school time. He underwent knee surgery and his athletic career was uncertain after he returned from an LDS Church mission. He attended USU but didn’t participate in track as a freshman. “He was not sure he was going to run in college,” says Gensel. “I knew he could be good. I talked him into coming out and trying it. Then in his first meet he blew out his Achilles tendon. He struggled with it last year.”
This winter Martin set the indoor school record for 400 meters.
Cole and Clay Lambourne were state champion sprinters for Riverton High who have risen up the all-time performance lists at USU. Cole is the second fastest 400-meter runner in school history. Gensel converted Clay into an 800-meter runner and this season he became the second fastest in school history at that distance. Only Enyeart, another converted sprinter and a four-time NCAA 800 champion, has run faster.
Asked about the state of the USU track team, sprint coach Jeramie Murray said, “There is something happening up here in Logan worth talking about ... We have some amazing kids (who) came to Utah State to work hard.”