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Cross country: LA boys take 2nd at national meet

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By Mike Cote

It was a lofty goal that the Los Alamos XC Club set for itself going into Saturday’s Nike Team Nationals race, but one the team felt, to a man, it could attain.It was shooting for a top-four finish at Saturday’s NTN race, the prep-level cross country championship meet sponsored by Nike, Inc.But a finish like Saturday’s might have been harder to imagine for the squad.Los Alamos, comprised of members of the Hilltoppers’ 2007 state championship squad, finished within two points of Naperville, Ill., for the national team championship Saturday. Naperville eked out a 125-127 win in the race on an ugly, muddy course inside the infield at the Portland Meadows horse race track.Los Alamos, for its part, placed four runners in the top 20 in Saturday’s race, the only team in Saturday’s competition to pull off such a feat.“It was an amazing race,” said team co-head coach Kathy Hipwood Saturday night from Portland. “Our first three guys got out really well and Tom Bowidowicz was back a little bit, for one loop he was back. But when he came back around he was right there with them.”Led once again by Allen Pittman, the team’s top runner throughout 2007 who was 11th overall, Los Alamos displayed its tremendous depth and power running in front of a worldwide audience. Saturday’s meet was webcast on two Internet sites.Perhaps the only thing that separated Los Alamos from a national title was Naperville’s top runner, Christopher Derrick, who won the individual national title Saturday in a time of 15:39.8, topping Carroll (Texas) runner Colby Lowe by three seconds and blasting third-place runner and New Mexico state champion Ben Johnson by more than 40 seconds.Pittman ran a 16:33.1 for his 11th-place finish, but three teammates, Gareth Gilna, Kyle Pittman and Bowidowicz bunched in close behind him, finishing just a hair over seven seconds behind Allen and within sixth-tenths of a second of each other. Kyle Pittman and Bowidowicz finished in a virtual dead heat (16:40.5) just behind Gilna (16.39.9).“Our pack was just phenomenal,” Hipwood said. “At the first part we were ninth or 10th, but not that far out. They ran a smart race...they gained on a lot of people and no one gained on them.”Following Bowidowicz’s 20th-place finish, one of the team’s heroes in its improbable state championship run this season, Tom Witherell was 59th.Rounding out Los Alamos’ team were Kevin Hemphill (123rd) and Andrew Vierra (141st).Saturday’s flirt with a national title capped off what was arguably the greatest season in Los Alamos cross country history.The Hilltoppers, going into the 2007 prep season, were fairly solid underdogs to Albuquerque Academy’s Chargers, the Hilltoppers’ arch-rivals.But the ’Toppers stunned the Chargers in the Class AAAA cross country title race Nov. 10, winning by six points.In the Nov. 15 regional qualifying meet, Los Alamos was edged by Albuquerque XC — the Chargers’ non-prep moniker — but still placed well enough to earn a trip to the NTN finals in Portland.Albuquerque XC would go on to place third overall with 134 points.Naperville was one of only two teams to place two runners in the top 10 Saturday — the other being Carroll XC, which had little help on the back end after its top two runners — with James Riddell placing sixth overall (16:26.0).Los Alamos was recognized at a post-meet dinner Saturday night in Portland, and attended a post-even dance for the 42 boys and girls teams that competed at the NTN.“Being here was a darn good celebration,” Hipwood said. “It’s a first-class event.”