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ALBUQUERQUE — Two months ago, finishing the 2011 season with a trophy at the Class 4A boys track and field state meet seemed an unlikely prospect.
However, the Los Alamos Hilltoppers, a team with a new head coach and limited experience at the state level, were able to do just that this weekend.
With some big state title performances, Los Alamos collected 52 points at the 4A title meet, held at the University of New Mexico Track and Field Complex, to finish in third place.
The meet was won by the Artesia Bulldogs, who earned 67 points, snapping a two-year winning streak by the Albuquerque Academy Chargers. Academy finished second with 57 points.
Along the way Saturday, Hilltoppers Andy Thoma and Tim Wermer grabbed state individual titles and the Hilltoppers won three relay events with Thoma as the anchor in all three races.
Los Alamos’ 400 meter, 800 meter and 1600 meter relay teams were all victorious Saturday to get the team into the trophies. Los Alamos has been very hit-or-miss in the relay events over the years — handoffs are an issue for the program more years than not — but were dominant in 2011.
“We had three new guys, three guys who had never been in state until their last year,” said Hilltopper Graham Delano, who was also on all three of the winning teams. “But that kind of helped us by not having expectations and showing everyone up.”
Delano, Thoma and Paul Hemez, who took part in two of the three wins, were all soccer players on the 2010 state championship team and had never competed at state-level track and field prior to this season, for each their senior year.
But Thoma closed the deal on all three wins. Thoma trailed in all three races and in the open 400 meter race before coming from behind to win.
Because they and several other team members were going into 2011 with no experience at the state championship level, it was going to take that much more work to get them up to speed.
Los Alamos head coach Rob Hipwood said that was work they were happy to do to put themselves in the position to have a big showing.
“It was an absolutely exceptional day for the team,” Hipwood said. “It’s been an exciting two days to get so many people into the finals…we’re absolutely thrilled to win three relays and to have Andy Thoma and Tim Wermer win individually. It was a lot of fun.”
In the 3,200 meters, Wermer scored a big win, upsetting heavy hitters like Del Norte’s Tyler Saiz and Academy’s Neil Longenbaugh.
Wermer, a senior stayed with a big pack in the front of the race early, then made his move with about 700 meters to go, moving out to a small lead. Saiz, who had already run two races Saturday, made a comeback attempt with 300 meters left but didn’t get closer than a half-second behind with 200 meters remaining, when Wermer put him away.
Wermer finished with a time of 9:45.85, nearly two seconds better than Saiz.
“I had nothing to lose, right?” Wermer said after his win. “The pace wasn’t too quick after the first couple of laps and I just kept up with them.”
Also for Los Alamos, senior Kyle Stephens was third in the 100 meters and senior Kory Balog finished third in the javelin.