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RIO RANCHO — Anyone looking for a microcosm of Saturday’s Class AAAA boys cross country race need look no further than the race for sixth place.
Anthony Lauriello of Albuquerque Academy had about 10 meters on Los Alamos’ Nat Gustafson with about 50 meters to go.
But Gustafson’s kick had Lauriello scrambling to the finish line. Gustafson dove for the tape with two meters to go.
And Gustafson and Lauriello tied to the hundredth of a second on the clock.
The race was about as close as it could’ve been, but the Academy Chargers nipped the Los Alamos Hilltoppers 31.5 to 33.5 in the final tally.
The nail-biting finish came almost a year to the day of Los Alamos’ jaw-dropping upset of the Chargers in 2007.
“That’s what we do best,” Hilltopper Gareth Gilna said. “As the season goes on, we get better and better.”
Just two weeks after having to sit out the Los Alamos Invitational, Hilltopper junior Kyle Pittman grabbed the individual Class AAAA state championship with a blistering time of 15 minutes, 19.75 seconds, finishing ahead of teammate Gilna, who finished second individually.
Pittman was running in the lead pack for the first half of the race, but took off in the second mile and dominated the field the rest of the way to take his first individual state title, the first Los Alamos runner to take top honors since Ryan McNiff in 2005.
“I’m glad. It feels good,” Pittman said. “It’s kind of nice for me. The past few weeks have been tough. I had to sit out the home meet...and I wasn’t able to help out the guys.”
Heading into the latter part of the season, Pittman had been suffering from an illo tibula band problem in his knee.
Pittman and Gilna also became the first Los Alamos duo to claim the top two spots since McNiff and Simon Gilna accomplished that feat that same 2005 season. Ironically, Academy would also win that state title by two points.
Only one runner in Saturday’s boys top 10 wasn’t from Los Alamos or Academy.
Following Pittman and Gilna, Gustafson tied for sixth with Lauriello — hence the half-point team total — and Andrew Vierra took 10th.
The Chargers were solid favorites heading into Saturday’s race, but the Hilltoppers came within a hair’s breadth of pulling off another stunning upset. Vierra said he thought the team’s preparation in the final weeks gets it primed for big showings at state.
“We taper well,” Vierra said. “Our coaches get us ready, as ready as we’ll ever be. We give so much in this race. We run tougher at state than in any other race.”
After Academy and Los Alamos, Grants finished a distant third. Only Grants (147) and Piedra Vista (168) even broke the 200-point mark among the 17 teams competing.
Despite being nipped by the Chargers — who have won seven of the nine state AAAA titles since 2000 with the Hilltoppers winning in 2003 and 2007 — the Hilltoppers couldn’t have been much happier with the outcome. The 2-point split was the teams’ closest finish of the 2008 season.
“I don’t really know where those points could’ve been made up,” Hilltopper head coach Kathy Hipwood said. “They definitely had their best race of the season. They should be proud of themselves, and I know they are. They ran their hearts out.”
Final results will be printed in Tuesday’s Monitor.