For 22 years, Mike Jones has been the driving force behind the success of Utah’s cross country and track and field teams. In 1996, Jones led Utah through the successful reinstatement of the women’s track and field program after a 10-year hiatus. He was named the WAC Cross Country Coach of the Year in 1997 and 1998. In 1999 Jones led the running program into the newly created Mountain West Conference.
This will be the second year in the MWC for the Utah program. “I like the MWC more than I did the WAC. You’re competing against schools which recruit and develop local athletes. This creates an equal chance for success throughout the conference,” says Jones. The eight-team conference also includes Air Force, Brigham Young, Colorado State, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV and Wyoming.
Jones’ dedication to the Ute program has led to 24 All-America selections and five individual qualifiers for the U.S. Olympic Trials. Brenda Alcorn, a two-time All-American high jumper (1989 and 1991), was a finalist for the NCAA Woman of the Year Award in 1991. Traci (Olsen) Stevens was a 1992 All-American high jumper and a five-time national qualifier. Stevens also finished sixth at the 1992 NCAA Indoor Championships in Indianapolis, Ind., and placed 16th at the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team Trials.
Helping with the coaching duties are three former Ute runners, Travis Hildebrand, Chris Merkley and Jeff Simonich. Hildebrand was a two-time conference champion in track. Merkley was an All-American last year in cross country and placed 11th in 30:45 at the NCAA National Championships. Simonich, in his second year on the staff, was an All-American in cross country in 1998 and in indoor and outdoor track in 1998 and ‘99. Simonich was also named the WAC Cross Country Male Athlete of the Year in 1998.
Some of the other All-Americans coached by Jones include: Jill Molen (1981-83), who received seven All-America citations; Mary Lou Sedgwick (1981); Carla Pittelkow (1983); John Aalberg (1986) and Celsa Bowman (1987).
Jones has also produced several successful teams. In 1981, Jones led the Utah women to the AIAW Division II national championship and received national and conference coach of the year honors. His teams placed second in the conference in 1984 and 1989. In 1998, his men’s cross country team broke into the national rankings at No. 24 and finished sixth out of 14 teams at the NCAA Mountain Region meet.