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It came down to the No. 6 runner.
The Los Alamos Hilltopper boys cross country team has a knack for finishing as strong or stronger than any team in the state, year after year. Often that tendency shows up for the Los Alamos Invitational, and Friday was no exception.
The Hilltoppers hosted their annual home meet at Los Alamos Golf Course, with 12 teams taking part, not the least of which was the Albuquerque Academy Chargers. The Hilltoppers and the Chargers, of course, have slugged it out for the state Class 4A title every year since 2000 — they’re the only two teams that have won 4A championships from then until now.
For most of this season, the edge has clearly been with the Chargers, until Friday when the two teams finished deadlocked for first place at the Hilltoppers’ home meet.
The teams both finished with scores of 55 points. However, Academy won the tiebreaker with its No. 6 finisher, Jorge Otero, taking the 18th spot overall while the Hilltoppers’ No. 6, Greg Ahlers, was 22nd.
How does Los Alamos seem to turn up the heat on Academy every single year?
“I don’t know,” veteran Los Alamos head coach Rob Hipwood said, chuckling, after the race. “We’ve never figured out why that happens. Really, we wish wouldn’t start the year so far back, but this year we expected that. We want to be as good as we can be. It’s really nice to do that.”
While individually Los Alamos was right with Academy throughout Friday’s race on the grassy, hilly golf course run, the race might not have been quite that close had Academy’s top runner, Kyle Carrozza, been able to finish.
Carrozza, who is on the very short list for potential 4A individual champions this season, came down with a bout of plantar fasciitis this week and had to drop out of the race at the halfway point.
Prior to his dropping out, Carrozza was running step-for-step with the lead pack in the race, which included Pojoaque Valley’s Jeremy Santistevan, Cleveland’s Aaron Flores and Los Alamos’ Colin Hemez.
Hemez would finish third behind Santistevan, the odds-on favorite to win 3A this year, and Flores, an excellent Class 5A runner, with a time of 16:28.
Hemez could also vie for the individual title this season, but the Hilltoppers’ No. 1 is hardly focused on individual glory. Instead, he’d much rather see the Hiltoppers’ program continue to improve in this, his senior year, and beyond.
“Whatever happens at state, this group of guys is so awesome,” Hemez said. “I’m super-excited. These guys are so willing to gain varsity experience. It’s amazing to see. They give it everything they’ve got.”
Los Alamos’ other senior, Mike Walker, had one of his best races of the year Friday. Walker, whom the Los Alamos coaches have wanted to see take more chances on the course, was able to both go out hard and hang just behind the main pack for a good portion of the race.
Walker finished fourth overall, well ahead of another solid runner, Zachary Grand of Santa Fe, who was fifth.
Hipwood said he was also very impressed with the showing of Los Alamos’ No. 4 finisher, Cameron Staples. Staples finished just behind teammate Forrest White in 14th place.
Here are the results from Friday’s Los Alamos Invitational. Runners are from Los Alamos unless otherwise indicated.
1. Albuquerque Academy, 55; 2. Los Alamos 55; 3. Taos, 90; 4. Cleveland, 102; 5. Pojoaque Valley, 162; 6. Santa Fe Indian School, 178; 7. Santa Fe, 198; 8. Española Valley, 200; 9. St. Pius X, 207; 10. Hope Christian, 220; 11. Capital, 292; 12. Bernalillo, 305.
1. Jeremy Santistevan, Pojoaque Valley, 16:12; 2. Aaron Flores, Cleveland, 16:14; 3. Colin Hemez, 16:28; 4. Mike Walker, 16:46; 5. Zachary Grand, Santa Fe, 17:01; 6. Jordan Lesansee, Academy, 17:03; 7. Mateo Vigil, Taos, 17:05.45; 8. Donevan Gravelle, Taos, 17:05.87; 9. Aric Kedge, Academy, 17:16; 10. Pat Wood, Hope Christian, 17:17;
13. Forrest White, 17:20; 14. Cameron Staples, 17:21; 21. Gus Saeger, 17:45; 22. Greg Ahlers, 17:47; 32. Nate Phillips, 18:21.