Los Alamos boys, girls soar to first place wins

October 13, 2018

The Los Alamos cross-country team found a way to inject a brief moment of drama into what was an otherwise mundane Friday afternoon.

For about 30 minutes, the best boys and girls teams did not win the Northern New Mexico Challenge meet at the Municipal Recreation Complex. While the Hilltoppers and Lady Hilltoppers dominated both varsity races — the girls won with a 19-point total, while the boys scored a 26-point effort — what everyone saw on the course needed to be validated on paper. And the results card each team had to submit to race officials was missing for Los Alamos.

When the race results were posted, Los Alamos was not listed in the boys or girls team standings.

“Oh yeah, our bad,” Los Alamos co-head coach Kathy Hipwood said with a wry smile. “We were late turning in the card.”

In the end, the drama abated as the Lady Hilltoppers turned in the card showing they easily outpaced Academy for Technology and the Classics by 19-90 for the girls title, while the boys Hilltoppers were 26-88 better than fellow District 2-4A foe Pojoaque Valley.

Los Alamos also won individual titles as freshman Narissa Valdez finished in convincing fashion with a time of 19 minutes, 59.92 seconds, which was

56.53 seconds better than Taos’ Alyx Mastor. Meanwhile, a trio of Hilltoppers sprinted in stride to the finish line in the boys race, with Rafael Sanchez beating Steven Strevell by .34 of a second in a time of 16:44.31. Teammate Duncan Fuehne was right on their heels with a time of 16:44.91.

That performance came on the heels of a brilliant effort at the Pat Amato Classic in Northglenn, Colo., as Los Alamos brought home a pair of second-place finishes and Fuehne was second overall in the boys race. Counting the Albuquerque Academy Invitational on Sept. 28, Los Alamos boys and girls finished second twice and one first over the past three weeks.

Hipwood said she and co-head coach/husband Rob Hipwood try to blend variety into the schedule to avoid some of the pitfalls of competing against the same runners. Kathy Hipwood said that sometimes creates a comfort level that runners rely upon, and the Pat Amato Classic offered a challenge of pushing themselves.

“They get so used to the same runners here, and knowing that they should be relative to this person or that person,” Kathy Hipwood said. “[The Pat Amato Classic] was an opportunity, and they really learned. They embraced it and went after it and didn’t set limitations on themselves. They were rewarded with some really great [personal records].”

ATC girls can relate to that. The Class 2A school was among a handful of small schools at the meet, but the Phoenix more than held their own against the big schools. The race for second came down to ATC and

St. Michael’s, and the Phoenix’s No. 4 and 5 runners, Lilly Rittmeyer and Kamryn Hoehne, placed 22nd and 23rd. The Lady Horsemen had its first four runners take 10th, 14th, 16th and 17th, but No. 5 runner Lauren Cordova came in 37th for a 94-point total for third.

ATC head coach Tim Host said the pressure was off the girls since fellow Class 2A challenger Pecos was not there and Peñasco was not at full strength.

“It kinda nice to step away from that and just see them run,” Host said. “It was nice to have Los Alamos, which is going to help you get out faster [at the start], and St. Michael’s has some really good girls, and so does Santa Fe High and Taos and Pojoaque. It was a big-school meet.”

On the boys side, the big schools shined, as eight of the top 10 finishers came from Classes 4A and 5A. Leading the way was the Hilltoppers’ trio, which Pojoaque senior John Hall had a front-row view of. He ran with the Los Alamos pack until the final half mile. However, Hall said he laid back and let the Hilltoppers battle among themselves for first, as he wanted to measure the opponents he will see at the district meet and the state championships.

“I just let them go,” Hall said. “Right now, I’m just waiting until districts and state. They’re a good team. I’ll give them credit for that.”

Hall and the Elks, though, showed they can be a good squad, too.

After a disappointing performance at Santa Fe Indian School’s John Grimley Invitational last week that resulted in a fifth-place finish, the Elks bounced back. Hall took fourth, while Santiago Romero was eighth as Pojoaque was only other school besides Los Alamos to place at least two runners in the top 10. The rest of the Elks’ scoring ladder came in 21st (Joseph Gutierrez), 27th (Sebastian Rubio) and 28th (Zach Hall).

“We were all upset,” John Hall said. “We all ran a bad race. I told them, ‘Hey, let’s step it up. Let’s stop messing around.’ And that included me, too.”

West Las Vegas Isaiah Paiz was not messing around — he was too sick. A nagging illness throughout the week kept Paiz at less than 100 percent heading into the race.

Paiz didn’t feel confident about his performance until the one-mile mark coming down the hill around the pond hidden in the brush beyond the MRC soccer field.

“I saw the guys from Los Alamos go at it, and I just said, ‘All right, I’m just gonna go at my pace,’ ” Paiz said.

With three-fourths of a mile left, Santa Fe High’s Brock McKinney passed Paiz, but he gave the Dons senior the energy to chase him down and beat him to the line for fifth — the best 3A runner in the field.

“I just put in the effort, and I got fifth,” Paiz said. “There was a lot of good competition out here. It was just great to be out here.”