´Topper girls shooting for record 15th championship

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By Mike Cote

In girls sports in New Mexico, some programs have shown over the years to be completely dominant.
Kirtland Central, for example, is one of the premier basketball programs not just in the state, but in the nation, winning 18 state titles. Before that in that same sport, Eldorado was the cream of the state’s crop. Also in the Four Corners area, Piedra Vista is quickly establishing itself as the elite softball program in the state.
Saturday, Los Alamos can take its place as the pre-eminent power in the history of girls cross country in New Mexico.
The Hilltoppers are on the verge of winning their 15th state championship in program history. They can clinch the top spot all to themselves – they are currently tied with Gallup for the most titles by one school – with a victory at the Class AAAA meet.
And they’re the favorites heading in.
Los Alamos, which earned an upset victory over Albuquerque Academy last season to claim half of the coveted title, has no magic bullet. Outside of the great Kristen Hemphill, who won three consecutive state titles and led the team to three straight state titles, it hasn’t had the star power some other programs have boasted.
Its key to victory, in fact, is pretty simple.
“If we all stick together as a team, we can definitely win,” said Los Alamos’ Anna Wermer.
The Hilltoppers, as a team, run almost as one. That’s the way they’ve collected all those state titles and that’s exactly how they’ve been running during the latter part of the season.
Nowhere was that more apparent than at the Los Alamos Invitational, in which all six Hilltopper runners finished in the 4-9 individual slots, all of them finishing within about 15 seconds of one another.
Los Alamos accomplished much the same feat a week ago at the District 2AAAA championship race, taking nine of the top 10 slots and finishing with a perfect score of 15, the third straight year the team had done so.
At that meet, freshman Eliana Riciputi won the first district title of her career. It was actually Riciputi’s first meet win of any kind.
Individual glory, however, has never been an issue among the Hilltoppers in any season.
“We’re all basically on the same level,” Riciputi said. “After district and the home meet, we saw that we packed together really well, especially with Anna coming up.”
Los Alamos was without two top runners, Jennifer Mooday and Victoria Honnell two weeks ago.
Both runners were out with illnesses. Honnell also sat out the district race and although Mooday competed, she was not back to 100 percent, either.
Honnell is expected to return Saturday and Mooday is now closer to full strength which could help the Hilltoppers immensely.
Academy, the most likely team to give Los Alamos a tough time, is led by Julia Foster, who is the favorite to win her third state Class AAAA individual title.
Teamwise, Riciputi feels like the course at Rio Rancho gives her team an edge.
“It’s definitely challenging,” she said. “The hills and the sand mixed together make it hard. It’s a big mental course, it’s not just about strength...if you lose your head, you’re going to stop.”
Should Los Alamos prevail Saturday, it would be the 12th state title the team has won under the tutelage of head coaches Rob and Kathy Hipwood, who took over the program in 1994.
The Hipwoods, arguably the top coaches in the history of New Mexico cross country, led the squad to five straight victories between 2000-2004 and four straight between 1994-1997.