North Texas’ first lap through Conference USA was a bit of rough one when it came to track and field.

The Mean Green have long been known for their prowess in the sport, especially when it comes to the outdoor season, and went out as conference champions on the women’s side in their final season in the Sun Belt.

UNT enters this week’s C-USA meet looking to take a step toward enjoying that type of success in its new league. The four-day event will begin today at Larry K. Durham Track at Kidd Field in El Paso.

The Mean Green finished seventh in the men’s team standings and 12th in the women’s at their first outdoor conference meet in C-USA, which is considered a step up from the Sun Belt.

“We want to be top-five,” UNT coach Carl Sheffield said. “We have started to figure out where we can score the most points, how we match up with the other teams and what we need to do.”

Middle Tennessee, Texas-San Antonio and Western Kentucky are among the favorites in the race for the men’s title, while Louisiana Tech, WKU and Charlotte are among the top teams on the women’s side, Sheffield said.

The process of joining those teams has been a tough one for UNT, which is in its fourth season under Sheffield. The Mean Green are just reaching the point where the majority of their athletes have been recruited by Sheffield and his staff.

UNT will need a few more years before it will have a full roster recruited to compete at the C-USA level.

Sheffield and his athletes say they still have room to grow but expect this season to mark a step forward for the program.

“We definitely feel better about it with this being our second time in the Conference USA meet,” sophomore sprinter Collin Heard said. “We have done it before. We can jump up. We plan to do a lot better.”

UNT has a few athletes ranked among the top event performers entering the meet. Shahaf Bareni has the top mark in the high jump at 5 feet, 11 1/4 inches, while Victoria Clark has the best mark in the hammer throw at 180-11.

The Mean Green are hoping a few members of the football team who have come out in the last few weeks could help push them up the standings. Wide receiver Darvin Kidsy will compete in the high jump, while cornerback Jamal Marshall is expected to compete in the sprint events.

Marshall is one of the fastest players on UNT’s football roster and became friends with several members of the track team when they lived together in Victory Hall as freshmen.

“I ran track in high school and went to state,” Marshall said. “It’s fun to get back to it. I kind of missed it. I used to tease the guys about coming out. This time I came out and ran in a meet.”

UNT is hoping Marshall and Kidsy will pick up valuable points and help the Mean Green in their quest to improve in their second go-round in C-USA.

“I have been working on it since I’ve been here,” Sheffield said of recruiting football players. “They have recruited some guys who could help us in track. They have always had guys who ran track in high school. Now the guys they have can come out and help, and their coaches have allowed them to do it.”

The friendships between UNT’s track and football athletes helped in the process.

“We recruited a couple of them over to give us some extra help that will ensure that we will do well,” junior sprinter Kedron Sowells said. “They can definitely help us. They bring that competitive edge from football that we can use.”

BRETT VITO can be reached at 940-566-6870 and via Twitter at @brettvito.