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RIO RANCHO — There’s a new undisputed champion of girls cross country.
With a big victory Saturday, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls cross country team earned its 15th state title in school history, surpassing Gallup High School to earn its spot in New Mexico history.
Los Alamos took home its record 15th blue trophy with solid victory over its arch-rival, Albuquerque Academy. Los Alamos finished with 42 team points, less than half the total of Academy’s Chargers, the only other team in AAAA to finish with less than a triple-digit score.
Fittingly, the Hilltoppers picked up the record-setting victory by doing what they do best, the strategy that’s helped them earn those titles: running as a pack.
Los Alamos, which during the 2010 season didn’t manage to establish a true No. 1 runner, took the fifth, sixth, ninth and 10th spots in the race to pick up the victory.
Again, fittingly, the team was paced by Anna Wermer, a runner who actually started out the 2010 season on the junior varsity team, worked her way up after two solid sub-varsity showings and took off late in the season. Wermer finished in the No. 5 spot, earning a solid time of 20 minutes, 2 seconds, seven seconds better than teammate Teresa Sandoval.
“I feel like we definitely prepared ourselves,” said Los Alamos’ Teresa Sandoval, who had to sit out the 2009 race after suffering a strange neurological problem toward the end of the season, but was cleared to return this season.
Los Alamos’ biggest competition heading into the race was Academy, which featured one of the most storied runners in state history, Julia Foster. Foster picked up the third individual title of her career, topping her next-closest competitor by more than 30 seconds.
But the Hilltoppers, who have thrived throughout their history with and without the marquee runners, simply stuck together as they almost invariably seem to do.
“The whole team is full of superstars,” Hilltopper senior Megan Reader said jovially after the victory. “The pack is what counts, definitely.”
The Hilltoppers have won 12 of their 15 titles under the direction of co-head coaches Rob and Kathy Hipwood, who started their careers at Los Alamos in 1994, the year of their first championship.
Kathy Hipwood said the team had its ups and downs throughout the course of the season, but finding and keeping its confidence was the big key leading to a state championship.
“I think we started so strong at (the University of New Mexico Invitational), they were really shocked,” Hipwood said. “Then there was a couple of meets that they weren’t at the front, but once they learned how well they could do as a pack, that changed everything.”
Saturday’s race was the second-straight state championship for the team, which upset the favored Academy last season.
Six of Los Alamos’ seven runners placed in the top 20 individually Saturday.
The mood following the Hilltoppers’ victory was less excitement and more quiet satisfaction, although there were plenty of good feelings to go around the team.
“I feel like I did really well. I was really inspired by my teammates,” Los Alamos’ Teresa Sandoval said. “Teamwise, we really stepped it up. I couldn’t ask for a better team. They’re like my second family.”
Reader said she felt the tide turning in favor of the Hilltoppers late in the year. At the Los Alamos Invitational two weeks earlier, Los Alamos grabbed the 4-9 spots to earn a big victory, thumping Academy that was also present at the meet.
The team never looked back. Just a week later, Los Alamos finished with a perfect score at the District 2AAAA championship race.
“We’re really proud of them,” Hipwood said. “We have a mixture of experience and inexperience. They put it together.”
Here are the results from the Class AAAA state championship meet. Runners are from Los Alamos unless otherwise indicated.
1. Los Alamos, 42; 2. Albuquerque Academy, 88; 3. St. Pius X, 123; 4. Valencia, 141; 5. Gallup, 159; 6. Miyamura, 181; 7. Bernalillo, 237; 8. Del Norte, 240; 9. Aztec, 241; 10. Piedra Vista, 263; 11. Kirtland Central, 267; 12. Española Valley, 272; 13. Artesia, 312; 14. Chaparral, 385; 15. Roswell, 394; 16. Santa Teresa, 405; 17. Goddard, 427.
1. Julia Foster, Academy, 18:35; 2. Jenna Thurman, Del Norte, 19:06; 3. Nisa Rascon, Valencia, 19:28; 4. Marissa Nathe, St. Pius X, 19:28; 5. Anna Wermer, 20:02; 6. Teresa Sandoval, 20:09; 7. Anna Olesinski, Roswell, 20:12; 8. Myka Curtis, Kirtland Central, 20:13.15; 9. Eliana Riciputi, 20:13.50; 10. Jennifer Mooday, 20:16;
11. Marisol Mendoza, Bernalillo, 20:19; 12. Emily Pittman, 20:26; 13. Kendra Lente, Los Lunas, 20:30; 14. Kaylee Tsinnigine, Gallup, 20:33; 15. Megan Dunlap, Academy, 20:34; 16. Morgan Findley, Academy, 20:38; 17. Emma Durkin, St. Pius, 20;42; 18. Rachel Kresl, Aztec, 20:44; 19. Megan Reader, 20:50.05; 20. Haley Barela, Academy, 20:50.55; 50. Victoria Honnell, 22:01.