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Matt Conn

“I thought they had the wrong name,” Artesia High School head track and field coach Matt Conn laughed.

Funnily enough, they did at first – albeit inadvertently.

Conn and some of his staff were in attendance Jan. 19-20 at the New Mexico Track and Cross Country Coaches’ Association’s clinic in Albuquerque, but they left prior to the awards luncheon, unaware there was a reason to stay.

“I got a phone call later with a huge apology, saying they’d had the wrong name on the award,” said Conn. “My staff thought that was pretty funny.”

Better late than never, he received his honor: 2017 NMTCCCA Coach of the Year for Class 5A boys’ track and field.

“It’s an honor,” Conn said. “It’s pretty cool. I definitely wasn’t expecting that my first year as head coach, but it’s really exciting for us, and I say ‘us’ meaning my staff, because it takes all of us. What Rex (Henderson) did before me getting the program to where it’s at, as well.”

The Bulldogs shocked the Class 5A State Track Meet last spring by coming from seemingly out of nowhere to threaten for the runner-up spot.

“We had some injuries, unfortunately, and Alamogordo got us in that last relay or we would have had second,” Conn said. “But our kids fought. We didn’t think we had a shot at the top three, in all honesty. Our kids outperformed everything we thought they’d do.

“Our girls’ side didn’t have a chance to get on the podium, but those girls’ relays getting from Day One to Day Two is a huge thing, and it gives them a lot of confidence coming back.”

Conn and Co. – including assistant coaches Stephen Johnston, Mandi Lewallen, Jayde Burnell, LaNay Crenshaw, Derek Montoya, Jacob Brink, Chris Saxon, Michael Mondragon and Jeff Houghtaling – are expecting even more from their athletes in 2018.

“Our goal this year for the boys is to get back up on the podium,” Conn said. “The girls are in a rebuilding year, but we’ve got some young ones getting some experience, and we want to go after a district title with both the boys and girls. We have a lot of depth with the boys, and if we play our pieces right, we should be able to compete at the state level pretty well.

“It’s humbling. It felt good to be honored by those people in our first year as a staff together, and a big thanks to Rex Henderson for helping me along my first year. A big thanks also to everybody in Artesia that makes track and field fun for kiddos. We sure did appreciate everything people did for us in our first year together.”