More than 1,000 athletes will be competing this week in the annual Drake Relays in Des Moines, Iowa.

Eighteen of them will be from the University of Saint Mary.

“This is the most prestigious track meet in the Midwest,” said USM track coach Alstin Benton.

The event is an open invitational for college and high school athletes, most who come from the central part of the United States. Only the athletes with the top times in each event are invited to compete in the relays at Drake Stadium.

The relays are regarded as one of the top track and field events in the U.S. The relays began in 1910 and have been a regular spring event ever since.

The Spires will have entries in the 4x800 meters, 4x100 meters, 4x200 meters and the distance medley relay.

The action begins Wednesday, but USM’s first action will be Thursday when senior Tony Weber competes in the 10,000 meters.

“I’m just pretty excited,” said Weber.

Weber competed in the long-distance race at the Drake Relays last year.

“I was pretty nervous last year,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect. This year, there’s no pressure.”

Weber clocked a time of 30 minutes, 29 seconds last year. His goal this year is to go one second faster, which would also give him the USM record in the event.

Benton said Weber has been a valued addition to the USM program since his days as a standout at Pleasant Ridge High School. As a Ram, Weber won the state title in the 3,200 meters. He holds the school record in the 3,200 meters and 1,600 meters.

Now in his fourth year at USM, Weber is a six-time all-American, a 10-time champion in the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference and the record holder in the 10,000 meters at the KCAC meet. Last year, he had the third-best 10,000 meters time in the NAIA.

“He’s been a huge part of our program,” Benton said. “He’s been a leader since he’s been on campus.”