By Drew Harris | UTAMavs.com
ARLINGTON, Texas -- Once overshadowed by standouts in sprints, field events and multi-events, UT Arlington's distance runners have certainly run out of that shadow over the past few years.
Now armed with a full complement of standouts on both the men's and women's side, UT Arlington has burst onto the regional and national scene in distance events. And for coach John Sauerhage, who starred at UTA as a long-distance runner, it's been a tremendously rewarding experience.
"These kids are so dedicated," Sauerhage said. "They push me to be the best coach I can be. You feel like you owe them the best that you can give them every single day. You don't want to let them down."
This week, the highest-seeded Maverick in any event at the NCAA West Preliminary Round is Emil Blomberg, who is ranked second in the 3000m steeplechase with a time of 8:36.98. Blomberg qualified for the NCAA Championships in the event a year ago, but has shaved another eight seconds off last year's time.
Currently ranked sixth nationally, the senior from Jarfalla, Sweden, is also chasing an Olympic qualifying standard. In 2012, the "A" standard was 8:23.10, while the "B" mark was 8:32.00.
"He's knocking on the door," Sauerhage said. "Emil has had some heroic performances. You can't deny how good they've been. We're just ecstatic about his progression. He's gotten stronger and stronger and that's what you want from everyone you coach."
In addition to owning the school record in the steeplechase, Blomberg also sports the top mark in the indoor mile and 3000m. He also has top-five UTA marks in the indoor 800 meters and outdoor 1500m. The versatile performer has helped the Mavericks claim five conference titles between cross country and indoor and outdoor track.
Additionally, he was named the Sun Belt Conference Indoor Outstanding Performer in 2014 and 2015, the first UTA athlete to accomplish that feat in 25 years. Now Blomberg is in search of All-America honors, something never before achieved by a UTA male at any distance greater than 400 meters.
"He's the kind of athlete you don't replace," Sauerhage said. "You just put a picture of him up on the wall and remember what all he accomplished."
Another distance runner enjoying a record-breaking season is Gabriela Alfonzo, who will participate in the women's 5000 meters in Austin. This spring, the junior set new school standards in both the 5000m (16:32.39) and 10,000m (35:20.04). She was the conference runner up in both events.
The native of Valencia, Venezuela, also has qualified to compete for her native country in both the Pan Am Games and the South American Games in July.
"The improvements that Gabriela has made since she's been here have been astonishing," Sauerhage said. "She's a super person and wonderful to coach. She truly deserves all the success she's enjoyed."
Senior Ashly Wright has been a standout in the 800 meters throughout her time in Arlington, and recently claimed her first league title in the event. Her season-best clocking of 2:07.34 places her 21st overall in the NCAA West Region.
Wright is no stranger to the big stage, as she reached the 2013 NCAA Championships in the 800m. That year, she notched the second-fastest time in UTA history (2:06.04), just a quarter of a second off the all-time school mark.
"Ashly is as determined as anyone I've coached," Sauerhage said. "We're very proud of her. She's faced some very strong competition over the years, and her conference title was long overdue and a great reward for all her hard work."
Part of her stiff competition has come from sophomore teammate Tamerah Gorham. Gorham also will be competing in the 800 meters, giving the Mavericks another threat in the event. Gorham is also a conference champ in that distance.
The quality and depth of the runners on the current UTA roster has not only made an impact in the conference standings, but also in recruiting.
"They've opened up some doors for us," Sauerhage said. "We've always had good sprinters and jumpers. The distance crew has now elevated to the point where they can win us a conference championship, and people want to be a part of that."
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