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Boys track and field: Toppers looking forward to 2008

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By Mike Cote

Those around the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys track and field team rarely get bogged down in details, least of all head coach Larry Baca.Baca’s philosophy, which has served him well for his previous 23 seasons as head coach, is to use the regular season meets as tune-ups for the district championship meet.Los Alamos will get that process started Saturday when it heads to the Albuquerque Public Schools meet. That meet will take place at Milne Stadium.“It’s just to see where we are,” Baca said of the season opener. “They don’t even ask for performances to seed anyone. We just throw them in and let them race.”The Hilltoppers have high hopes and high expectations heading into the 2008 season after taking the Class AAAA runner-up spot in 2007 behind Albuquerque Academy.After Academy’s 115 team points and Los Alamos’ 89, no other team finished with even half of either total.Los Alamos and Academy will meet at Saturday’s APS contest, along with Class AAAAA Highland, La Cueva and the Hilltoppers’ District 2AAAA opponent Capital.Even though Los Alamos’ focus is on winning the 2AAAA crown and winning as many events as possible in that meet, which is scheduled for May 9-10 in Los Alamos, the ‘Topper athletes want to get the season started on the right foot.“I think we’re all ready for it,” junior sprinter Raul Rodriguez said. “The first meet’s always pretty hard, but once we get there we’ll do pretty good.”This season, Rodriguez is looking toward improving on his fourth place state finish in the 100 meters and third place finish in the 400. Rodriguez won his heat by a wide margin in a team 400 time-trial Wednesday.Rodriguez set his sights high this season, aiming for state titles in the 100 meters and 200 meters as well as the 400.Los Alamos will be without the services of Alex Umstead, who graduated last year. Umstead became just the second Hilltopper to win four state titles in his career, those coming in the discus and shot put.Los Alamos will be looking for weightmen to step up to that challenge, a search that’s been slowed in the preseason somewhat because of the weather.Baca said one of his early season goals is to get better acquainted with the newcomers, of which he has 18. Altogether, there are 60 athletes on the boys’ squad, a number which may even go up after basketball season ends.The Hilltoppers are also the defending AAAA champs in three relays, the 400, 800 and 1600 meters, although several of the athletes on those teams have since graduated.Ruben Martinez, who had a hand in two of those victories, is back, and another, Martin Romero, is expected back following the hoops season.The big point grabbers this season, however, could well be the distance squad. Los Alamos’ cross country team finished second in the nation this fall, and that entire group will be competing this season for the track squad.Allen Pittman had top-seven finishes at state in the 1600 and 3200 last year, and Gareth Gilna and Kyle Pittman finished not too far behind in the 3200.There are plenty of reasons for the Hilltoppers to be excited about, but they’re also well aware there’s a lot of work to be done.“We’re feeling pretty confident,” sprinter Matt Zocco said. “We’ve all got to be confident in each other. The team is good, but everyone’s got to give each other that confidence.”