Sunday, March 4, 2018 | 2 a.m.
They were eating a team meal in Albuquerque and eager for the following day’s track meet.
The UNLV women, although an underdog entering last weekend’s Mountain West indoor championship to two-time defending champion Colorado State, sensed they had the athletes to win the program’s first league title in more than two decades.
They were at a restaurant near the mall, and probably there for about 10 minutes, when someone rushed inside and announced that the vans parked outside had just been broken into and asked if anyone knew who they belong to.
Those vans were the ones the Rebels had rented for the weekend. The thieves had broken the windows and taken everything — laptop computers and other electronic devices, wallets with cash and identification, headphones, text books, car keys, and track shoes and other gear needed for competition.
The snatch-and-grab job affected 12 athletes for a loss of nearly $15,000, coach Yvonne Wade said.
With no shoes, how would they compete?
That’s when UNLV equipment manager Tausha Smith came to the rescue. She grabbed extra spikes in storage on campus and jumped on an early flight. She was able to deliver the gear to the team, which did the rest.
The players weren’t rattled by what happened. Rather, they were motivated and wouldn’t be denied. They won the elusive title, the program’s first since 1993.
“We are built for things like this,” said sophomore Kaysha Love, who was on the Rebels’ champion 1600 meter relay team and also grabbed a silver medal in the 200 meter.
“You can look at anything as a hindrance. But when you want to win something so badly, you won’t let anything get in the way. That’s how we came together,” Love said.
As Wade started taking inventory of what was missing, her attention quickly shifted to the three-day meet. Instead of focusing on what was lost, she instructed athletes to focus on what could be won. Last year, they lost by 3.5 points.
From coordinating with the University of New Mexico to help with gear UNLV didn’t have in stock to keeping players focused on the meet, Wade was brilliant, her athletes said. She was named the league’s coach of the year.
“It pissed them off. You tell these girls something will stop them, and they will defy it,” Wade said. “We had every intention of going for the win coming in. This was just another hurdle in our way.”
There is no way to sugarcoat it: Losing a computer with school work saved on it is flat-out awful. Same for your identification, which was needed to travel back to Las Vegas. Breaking in new spikes — usually a two week process — hours before a big meet, could have altered the result.
Just not for these Rebels, who finished 14 points ahead of second-place Colorado State.
Najia Hudspeth won the 400 meters in a personal best time of 54.07 and anchored the champion relay team, whose time of 3:38.65 was the third fastest in UNLV history. Avi’Tal Perteete, also part of the relay team, took second in the 800 meters at 2:04.01, which is the 13th fastest time nationally.
In the 60 meters, the Rebels had three finishers in the top six to earn a pivotal 15 points. Jasmyne Graham’s personal best time of 8.78 seconds was good enough for second place; Jaela Williams and Amari Norris were fifth and six, respectively. In the field events, MacKenna Howard netted eight points with a second-place finish in the shot put at 52 feet, 11.50 inches.
The Rebels’ winning ways could just be getting started. They’ll transition next to the outdoor season, where they are expected to again compete for a championship. This time, of course, minus scrambling to replace stolen items.
“It is not a good feeling to sit down at dinner and be told your van is being broken into,” Wade said. “I am very pleased with these young ladies. They were focused. They didn’t look shook.”