Boys track and field: LA hoping to build back into contention

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By Mike Cote

Larry Baca doesn’t often look past what he or his team is doing right now.

Baca, the longtime head coach of the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys track and field team, likes to take things one day at a time. This season in particular.

Los Alamos’ Hilltoppers, who have had some of their most successful seasons in recent history, will have to work hard to achieve that kind of success again this season. Los Alamos lost numerous key athletes to graduation over the last two years and it’s time for a little rebuilding.

Fortunately, there is enough young talent mixing with the returning veterans around to make that rebuilding process a little easier.

The Hilltoppers will take part in their second meet of the 2010 season Saturday when they go to the Albuquerque Public School Invitational. They are scheduled to run at Milne Stadium at 9 a.m.

Last week, the Hilltoppers opened their campaign at the Rio Rancho Chili Quadrangular. At the end of the meet, in Baca’s favorite event, the 1600 meter relay, Baca saw what he was hoping to see from his team.

“We weren’t in contention for anything,” Baca said. “But when Tom (Day) got the baton, he took off. He held off Academy.”

Los Alamos won the event with a time of 3:40.26, a good effort for a team that will be searching to get its relay squads back up to state title caliber.

The Hilltoppers’ relay teams were a big part of their success in 2009, when they finished as the Class AAAA runner-up. The Hilltoppers won the 400- and 800-meter relays and finished second in the sprint medley relay.

Those 2009 relay teams, as well as a very good 1600 relay team that was disqualified at state due to a false start, were senior-heavy, however. Tops on Los Alamos’ to-do list early this season is to find its best combinations to get back into contention.

The Hilltoppers finished last week’s meet at Rio Rancho in third place, 30 points behind runner-up Albuquerque Academy. Academy is the reigning state champion and will likely be in contention again this season.

Artesia is projected to have several good athletes returning this season, while Belen could also have several solid athletes this season as well.

At least one newcomer has already boosted Los Alamos’ chances this season, however.

Making his presence felt at the Rio Rancho meet was Charles Rappe. Rappe, a sophomore transfer from Fort Lewis, Colo. who is scheduled to be in town only through this semester, won both the 110-meter and 300-meter hurdles Saturday, qualifying for the state championship meet in the 110 with an impressive time of 15.84.

Among Los Alamos’ top returners are Day, a 110 and 300 hurdle qualifier in 2009, and sprinters David Brock and Mike Sanchez.

Also, Austin Wolstein, who finished second in discus at the state meet last season, one of the most impressive individual finishes Los Alamos posted last season, is scheduled to rejoin the team following the conclusion of basketball season.

But Los Alamos’ biggest weapon, without question, is distance runner Kyle Pittman.

Pittman, who signed to run cross country with the University of New Mexico earlier this week, is the top distance runner in the state. He wasted no time this season, picking up a qualification mark last week in the 3,200 meters, holding off another very good distance runner, Alex Herring of Academy, to win the event.

Last season, Pittman finished third at the state meet in both the 1,600 and 3,200 meters, in both races coming in behind teammate Gareth Gilna, who is now running for the University of Washington, and Academy’s Pat Zacharias, arguably the second-best distance runner in New Mexico.

Along with his distance prowess, Pittman is also a capable 400 meter runner and has jumped onto the 1600 relay team several times in the past.

For the younger members of the team, Baca was impressed that each of his throwers managed a personal best mark at Rio Rancho despite very limited practice time.

“The javelin throwers have only been able to throw about 10 feet in front of them,” Baca said. “We’ve still got a discus somewhere out there in the snow.”

While Los Alamos usually looks forward to the Richard Harper Memorial meet — which is similar in structure to the state meet — Baca said he’s only worried about the District 2AAAA meet, at which Los Alamos will again be heavily favored.

“We’ve got eight more practice meets,” he said. “We’ll do some different things with our relays. I’ll do that through most of this year. For the most part, the field and the hurdle events are set. We’ll see if we can improve.”