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SANTA FE — Cross country fans know it’s not unusual to see Los Alamos’ top two runners at the head of a prep race.
The order of finish for them Saturday, however, was a little different than what most are used to seeing.
Kyle Pittman of Los Alamos ran a blazing-fast 15 minutes, 19 seconds at Saturday’s Santa Fe Indian School meet, earning the meet’s individual title and coasting to a 13-second victory over teammate Gareth Gilna.
Meanwhile, the Hilltopper team prevailed among competition that was tougher than one might expect at first glance. Kevin Hemphill had a strong seventh-place finish as Los Alamos picked up 45 team points, 18 points better than second-place Navajo Pine.
It was the first win of the season for the Hilltoppers, who had finished second behind Albuquerque Academy in each of their other three races.
The Hilltoppers ran Saturday without many of their regulars, including Nat Gustafson, Andrew Vierra, Austin Jacobson and Andrew Vierra.
But even heavy absences — mostly due Saturday’s SAT and a band competition — weren’t enough to slow down the Hilltoppers, the deepest team in New Mexico.
“This is the most kids we’ve had missing a meet in a very long time,” Los Alamos co-head coach Rob Hipwood said, noting that 18 runners from the program. “But on the bright side, it gave a lot of kids the opportunity to step into some different roles.”
Running in the stead of the team’s regulars were Ian Pulliam, Josh Bowman and Daniel Roybal, three runners that have been solid on the junior varsity squad. They responded well running for the big squad, with Bowman and Roybal placing in the top 25 and Pulliam even cracking the top 13.
Gilna and Pittman didn’t waste anytime jumping out to the front four along with Hemphill and Jemez Valley’s Troy Malenda.
At about the halfway point, Gilna and Pittman were running almost even, nearly 20 seconds ahead of Malenda, but Pittman started to pull away in the latter half of the race.
It was his first win of the season and the first time he’d finished ahead of Gilna. For Gilna, it was his fourth second-place finish in as many tries this season.
“I just tried to stay relaxed for the first part of the race, then push it when I got around the second loop,” Pittman said. “It’s not easy. I pushed myself and keep a good pace on the downhills.”
Saturday’s course was fairly flat from start to finish, but the end of the first and second loops around the Santa Fe Indian School campus came to an end at a paved downhill stretch where the runners could really open up their stride and pick up a good head of steam.
Pittman said it was a good finish for him — he was unimpressed with his 14th-place finish at Albuquerque Academy’s meet eight days earlier — and a good finish for the younger runners that helped seal Los Alamos’ win.
“Those guys are going to be my teammates next year,” he said. “It’s exciting to see them race well. They did awesome.”
Hipwood said it was also a big finish for Hemphill, another runner who was disappointed after the Academy meet.
“After (Academy), Kevin needed a good race,” Hipwood said. “This might be the closest he’s ever finished to Gareth and Kyle. That’s a good sign.”
Here are the results from Saturday’s Santa Fe Indian School Invitational. Runners are from Los Alamos unless otherwise indicated.
1. Los Alamos, 45; 2. Navajo Pine, 63; 3. Santa Fe Indian School, 99; 4. Pojoaque, 122; 5. Jemez Valley, 156; 6. Laguna-Acoma, 158; 7. St. Michael’s, 166.
1. Kyle Pittman, 15:19; 2. Gareth Gilna, 15:32; 3. Troy Madalena, Jemez Valley, 16:13; 4. Fred Baca, St. Michael’s, 16:18; 5. Timmy Chee, Navajo Pine, 16:22; 6. Thomas Martinez, Navajo Pine, 16:26; 7. Kevin Hemphill, 16:38; 8. Adrian Catron, Navajo Pine, 16:39; 9. Jordan Bolich, Capital, 16:44.15; 10. Tyler Pino, Laguna-Acoma, 16:44.77; 13. Ian Pulliam, 16:53; 22. Josh Bowman, 17:26; 24. Daniel Roybal, 17:29.