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Leave it to a guy from the Air Force Academy to take things to new heights.
Cale Simmons, who has plans on becoming a fighter pilot and answers to such nicknames as "Thundercat", "Blazer" and "Skeletor," was the recipient of the Falcons' men's track and field Most Improved Award a year ago after ranking seventh in the nation during the outdoor season with a career-best effort in the pole vault of 17'-7.75"
Where does "Most Improved" merge with "Best?" When this happens:
Simmons, a junior from Rocklin, Calif., became the NCAA indoor season leader in the pole vault during the Air Force Invitational on Feb. 11 when he turned in an AFA record effort of 18'-1.25." Simmons' effort, which was over a foot higher than the rest of the field, is the best vault in the NCAA this season and the third-highest vault in the nation in 2012. It also represents the third-best effort in MW history, moving Simmons from sixth to first on the AFA's all-time list and breaking Nick Frawley's 2009 record of 18'-1.00".
Simmons, who has aspirations of reaching 19 feet and earning a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team, will be among a number of top national performers competing when the Mountain West kicks off its 2012 Indoor Track and Field Championships, hosted by the University of New Mexico, at the Albuquerque Convention Center Feb. 23-25.
New Mexico senior Ross Millington set the MW all-time record in the 3,000-meter run in Seattle, Wash., on Feb. 10 (7:49.11), a time that ranks fourth best in the NCAA this season. Millington finished third in the event at last year's MW Indoor Championships, posting a time of 8:20.20.
Colorado State's Trevor Brown enters the meet having set the MW all-time record in the 60-meter hurdles in Golden, Colo., (7.86) on Feb. 17. As a freshman last year, Brown broke the school record in the 60-meter hurdles on consecutive days at the MW Indoor Championships, winning the preliminary round with a time of 7.93 seconds before winning the finals with a time of 7.91.
Boise State's Kurt Felix set the MW all-time record in the heptathlon with 5,771 points in Nampa, Idaho, on Feb. 10. Last year's Western Athletic Conference Indoor Performer of the Year, Felix earned second-team All-America honors after finishing 11th in the heptathlon at the NCAA National Championships.
San Diego State sophomore Shanieka Thomas owns the best triple jump mark in the country this season, having gone 43'-9.25" at the New Mexico Don Kirby Elite on Feb. 10. Thomas' effort of 42'-7.00" at last year's NCAA Indoor Championships was good for ninth place and represented the third-best mark in school history. Thomas was just one spot away from earning points for SDSU and was the one of just two freshmen to qualify in the event.
TCU senior Whitney Gipson is tied for fourth-best in the nation in the long jump with a mark of 20'-10.75," established at the Texas A&M Invitational on Feb. 11. Gipson, who became the first TCU women's athlete to win the long jump last year at the historic Penn Relays, placed fourth in the event at the NCAA Championships to earn All-America honors for the fourth time in her career.
UNLV senior Amanda Bingson posted the MW's third-best all-time mark (70'-11.25") in the weight throw in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Feb. 11. Bingson's effort, which was 3'-7.00" better than her previous school record, met 2012 NCAA Division I Indoor Track & Field Championships automatic qualifying standards, which for the weight throw is set at 21.00 meters.
San Diego State senior Whitney Ashley posted the MW's second-best all-time mark in the shot put on Feb. 10, notching a mark of 55'-7.50" in Albuquerque, N.M.
New Mexico's Josephine Moultrie notched the fifth-best mile time in MW history on Feb. 10, finishing in 4:42.30 in Seattle, Wash.