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Boys cross country: LA boys take 2nd at Academy, Pittman wins race in impressive fashion

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By Mike Cote

A pair of top-10 finishes, including a big victory by star Kyle Pittman, propelled the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys cross country team to a big finish Friday at Albuquerque Academy.

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Pittman, who is running at least as well, if not better, than virtually every other runner in the state right now, outslugged Academy’s Neil Longenbaugh down the stretch to win Friday’s race at Academy. The two runners were almost in stride with each other at the race’s halfway point, but a strong push in the final mile gave Pittman the victory by more than seven seconds.

His finish, along with teammate Tim Wermer’s ninth-place finish gave the Hillltoppers second place in the team standings at Friday’s meet.

The Academy race isn’t the biggest Los Alamos participates in but is often one of the toughest. But Los Alamos held its own, fending off a challenge from a good Class 5A school in Rio Rancho, by earning just 71 points.

The nationally-ranked Academy Chargers, meanwhile, had three runners finish in the top five individually, paced by Longenbaugh, to finish with a scant 30 points.

The second-place finish was the best Los Alamos had posted this season, albeit Friday’s meet was the smallest of the three it has competed in so far in 2009.

Los Alamos is running this season with six of its top seven having little or no varsity experience, but so far the results have been positive.

“We were really excited (Friday),” Los Alamos co-head coach Rob Hipwood said. “It was a lot of fun. The kids packed together really well.”

Along with Pittman and Wermer, a newcomer to varsity who posted a very respectable time of 17:02 Friday, both Ian Pulliam and Alexander Romero broke into the top 15 individually to help the Hilltoppers to the runner-up finish.

Finishing fifth for the Hilltoppers Friday was another newcomer, Josh Bowman. Bowman was 26th individually.

“I was really happy with it,” he said. “I moved up a place. I scored for the first time this season. It was a pretty difficult course, but I think we did well as a team.”

Academy has a deceptively tricky course, the difficulty with is usually exacerbated by hot, dry and sandy conditions. It doesn’t just befuddle the newcomers, either.

“This has been a hard meet for Kyle,” Hipwood said. “We joked before that he doesn’t have a lot of bad days, but the two bad days he has had have been on that course.”

Friday, however, wasn’t one of them.

Pittman jumped out ahead of the pack virtually from the gun. Just 100 meters in, Pittman had already begun to emerge from the crowd, although Longenbaugh stayed with him throughout much of the race.

Longenbaugh, however, simply couldn’t keep up forever with Pittman, who had a solid kick at the end of the race to seal the deal.

Pittman is the elder statesman on the team, something he in unaccustomed to, but he said he’s learning to enjoy that role.

“I’m feeling fine,” he said after his win. “I definitely miss not just Gareth (Gilna), Andrew (Vierra) and all of them…but the rest of the team has come right up and filled those spots really well.”

Pittman’s time of 16:03 was the best he’s run at Academy in his career.

Not only did Pittman post a solid time, so did most of the Hilltoppers. Many of the finish times, top to bottom, were on pace or very close to it with Los Alamos’ finish times from a season ago, when it also finished second behind Academy.

Here are the results from Friday’s Albuquerque Academy Invitational. Runners are from Los Alamos unless otherwise indicated.

Team scores

1. Albuquerque Academy, 30; 2. Los Alamos, 71; 3. Rio Rancho, 88; 4. La Cueva, 100; 5. Gallup, 181; 6. Pojoaque, 191; 7. Volcano Vista, 216; 8. Eldorado, 249; 9. Laguna-Acoma, 255; 10. Miyamura, 276; 11. St. Michael’s, 285; 12. Roosevelt, Colo., 325; 13. Grants, 339; 14. Thoreau, 403; 15. Highland, 421; 16. Valley, 446; 17. Taos, 461; 18. Sandia Prep, 532.

Individual results

1. Kyle Pittman, 16:03.88; 2. Neil Longenbaugh, Academy, 16:11.09; 3. Caleb Rubalcaba, Rio Rancho, 16:33.09; 4. Ryan Clark, Academy, 16:38.66; 5. Emmett Wynn, Academy, 16:46.09; 6. Larry Rodarte, Rio Rancho, 16:55.91; 7. Kyle Fast Wolf, La Cueva, 17:00.81; 8. Maurice Cruz, Academy, 17:01.21; 9. Tim Wermer, 17:02.28; 10. CJ Martinez, Eldorado, 17:03.37; 14. Ian Pulliam, 17:15.41; 15. Alexander Romero, 17:34.94; 26. Josh Bowman, 17:39.50; 28. Daniel Roybal, 17:43.34; 29. Zach Breshears, 17:47.56.