Boys cross country: Gilna wins big in final home meet of his prep career

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By Mike Cote

How good are the Albuquerque Academy Chargers?

Curtis Beach, arguably the best all-around prep athlete in the state of New Mexico, was only the sixth-best runner on their team at Friday’s Los Alamos Invitational cross country meet.

The Chargers put on an impressive performance Friday in taking top honors in the Los Alamos Invitational boys race, the final meet of the regular season for the 11 full teams involved. The meet was held at Los Alamos Golf Course.

Academy, a nationally-ranked team, finished with a scant 34 points Friday, placing five runners in the top 10 individually, topping second-place Cibola by nine points.

Los Alamos finished third in its home meet with 73 points.

As impressive as the Chargers were on Friday, however, they were overshadowed by hometown runner Gareth Gilna’s impressive individual performance. Gilna, Los Alamos’ top runner, grabbed the top individual honor going away with his time of 16 minutes, 4 seconds, a time which was among the best ever posted at the meet.

“My game-plan was to get out hard and stay out there, take risks,” Gilna said. “The course is hard. It’s one of the hardest courses we run.”

Gilna beat out a pretty impressive field, especially considering the meet is one of the smallest Los Alamos takes part in. Along with several members of the Charger who are considered among the top runners in the state, Cibola’s brothers Chris and Vince Montoya could have a big say in who is the 2008 Class AAAAA champion, and Gallup’s Donovan Jim is no slouch, either.

But Gilna outshined them all Friday, leading the race virtually from wire-to-wire in grabbing his second meet win of the season.

Gilna said he was motivated by the sizable home crowd.

“I love it,” he said. “Everybody’s out there cheering for you. It’s a totally different atmosphere from other races. It’s so spectator-friendly. Most courses your own your own, but here everyone’s lining up on every straightaway.”

The course at LAGC is said to be harder than it looks with lots of rolling hills. Several front-runners found that out Friday, particularly Academy’s Pat Zacharias, who was right there with the lead pack throughout the first mile but started to fall off the pace in the second mile.

Hilltopper Austin Jacobson, who finished 31st overall, said he had trouble in the second mile as well.

“About a mile in, I lost my position somewhat,” he said. “I didn’t feel good about the second mile. The pack spread from me...but I was able to move up.”

Los Alamos was without one of its top runners Friday, junior Kyle Pittman. Los Alamos co-head coach Rob Hipwood said Pittman was still suffering from an inflamed illotibial band in his knee.

Sitting Pittman out Friday was more precautionary than anything, he said.

“As much as he wanted to be in the home meet, it was better for Kyle not to run,” Hipwood said. “It was tough for him, but that was the best decision for the team.”

BJ Fincke, who has run well with the Hilltopper junior varsity much of the season, was brought up to run with the varsity Friday. He finished 46th overall.

Nat Gustafson cracked the top 10 for the Hilltoppers, taking ninth place. Gustafson’s kick at the finish line fell just short in his attempt to overtake Academy’s Emmett Wynn.

Andrew Vierra and Kevin Hemphill both cracked the top 20 Friday, taking 14th and 18th places for Los Alamos.

It was a solid finish to what was a solid regular season for the Hilltoppers, who grabbed two first and three second place finishes in 2008.

Los Alamos will have its one and only chance to qualify for the state meet Thursday at the District 2AAAA championship meet. That meet, which was originally scheduled for Saturday, will be held in Santa Fe’s Caja del Rio area.

Here are the boys results from Friday’s Los Alamos Invitational cross country meet. Runners are from Los Alamos unless otherwise indicated.

Team scores

1. Albuquerque Academy, 34; 2. Cibola, 43; 3. Los Alamos, 73; 4. Gallup, 104; 5. Santa Fe Indian School, 146; 6. Manzano, 164; 7. Pojoaque, 191; 8. Pecos, 233; 9. Highland, 245; 10. Santa Fe, 324; 11. Taos, 325; Capital, n/s; Bernalillo, n/s; Santa Fe Prep, n/s.

Individual results

1. Gareth Gilna, 16:04; 2. Chris Montoya, Cibola, 16:18; 3. Vince Montoya, Cibola, 16:19; 4. Anthony Lauriello, Academy, 5. Pat Zacharias, Academy, 16:34; 6. Donovan Jim, Gallup, 16:41; 7. Neil Longenbaugh, Academy, 16:50; 8. Emmett Wynn, Academy, 16:51; 9. Nat Gustafson, 16:51; 10. Ryan Clark, Academy, 16:54; 14. Andrew Vierra, 17:02; 18. Kevin Hemphill, 17:22; 31. Austin Jacobson, 17:59; 46. BJ Fincke, 18:38.