Boys cross country: Toppers take second at Academy Invite

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By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE — In the third and arguably the most important of its toughest races of the regular season, the Los Alamos Hilltoppers put together another big showing.

At Friday’s Albuquerque Academy Invitational, Los Alamos placed five runners in the top 30, finishing with 80 team points.

For the third time in as many races, the Hilltoppers took second overall at their meet, and for the third time in as many races, they finished second to Academy’s Chargers.

It’s hardly unusual for Los Alamos to finish behind Academy early in the season, but Friday’s outing was encouraging.

Going into Friday’s meet, the top goal of the team was “mainly for our pack to catch up to Academy,” said Hilltopper Gareth Gilna. “There was a much closer gap.”

The Chargers, who along with the Hilltoppers have dominated Class AAAA the entire decade with little interference from anyone else, also had a big day at their home meet. They finished with just 50 points, taking the 8-9-10 spots individually.

The two teams aren’t scheduled to meet again until the Los Alamos Invitational, the final regular season race for both squads, which is set for Oct. 24.

Along with earning the third second-place team finish Friday, Gilna also earned his third individual second-place finish.

At the Liberty Bell Invitational in Denver two weeks ago, Gilna emerged as a regional superpower, taking second place in a large meet that attracted teams from several surrounding states.

He said that so far everything has come together well for him in 2008.

“I’m very happy,” Gilna said. “I want to keep it at that level.”

Friday, he finished behind Eldorado’s Kevin Palmer, who along with brother Bryce are very possibly the top runners in New Mexico regardless of class. Bryce didn’t run Friday.

Gilna finished in 16:17 to take second, topping Gallup’s Donovan Jim by :03. He was in one of the top two spots almost every step of the way from start to finish.

The Academy course, which goes up and back across the expansive Academy campus, is deceptively difficult. Hills which appear rather tame can be steeper than they look and can have tricky, sandy footing.

Adding to the course’s difficulty Friday was mid-80 degree temperatures.

Gilna and teammate Kyle Pittman appeared well in-control of the race early on, with only Palmer and Jim interloping.

Pittman, who has of late been fighting the effects of a nasty head cold that’s been going around the team, started to slow up around the 2-mile mark. Eventually, he would drop out of the top 10 and finish 14th overall.

Gilna said after the race that he was still trying to get over his head cold as well.

Nat Gustafson had a solid outing Friday, kicking his way from 15th place with three-quarters of a mile to go to finish 11th. Gustafson outsprinted a runner from Gallup that he had trailed most of the race in the final 200 meters.

Austin Jacobson had a solid finish for the Hilltoppers as well, taking 24th, finishing five slots and 15 seconds ahead of teammate Andrew Vierra.

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

Team scores

1. Albuquerque Academy, 50; 2. Los Alamos, 80; 3. Eldorado, 118; 4. Gallup, 121; 5. Sandia, 125; 6. Rio Rancho, 175; 7. La Cueva, 178; 8. St. Michael’s, 228; 9. Westview, Ore., 266; 10. Grants, 296; 11. Laguna-Acoma, 306; 12. Pojoaque, 317; 13. Thoreau, 317; 14. Highland, 356; 15. Sandia Prep, 373.

Individual results

1. Kevin Palmer, Eldorado, 16:06; 2. Gareth Gilna, 16:17; 3. Donovan Jim, Gallup, 16:20; 4. Christian Meyer, Sandia, 16:30; 5. Nikolai Mondragon, La Cueva, 16:42; 6. Neil Longenbaugh, Academy, 16:45; 7. Dillon Shije, Sandia Prep, 16:46; 8. Ryan Clark, Academy, 16:50; 9. Emmett Wynn, Academy, 16:51; 10. Anthony Lauriello, Academy, 17:00; 11. Nat Gustafson, 17:02; 14. Kyle Pittman, 17:05; 24. Austin Jacobson, 17:25; 29. Andrew Vierra, 17:40; 41. Kevin Hemphill, 18:10; 47. Ben Havemann, 18:23.