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Cross country: LA teams to host invite Friday

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By Mike Cote

While the Los Alamos Invitational is hardly the most important meet of the cross country season, its recent history has suggested it is a tone-setter.

Los Alamos has sent invitations out to 15 other area teams for the Los Alamos Invitational, which will be held Friday at Los Alamos Golf Course. The meet will be the finale of the regular cross country season for those teams.

But for the Hilltopper boys and girls teams, they are heading in hoping to continue their groove.

The Hilltoppers had strong finishes at the humongous Rio Rancho Jamboree Saturday. That race, which was run at the same venue on a very similar course to what will be run at the state meet, included approximately 50 schools from around the state running in two separate size divisions.

At that meet, Los Alamos’ boys and girls both posted strong third-place finishes. The girls accomplished that task without one of their key runners, Megan Reader.

“The girls team as a whole is running really well,” Hilltopper co-head coach Kathy Hipwood said. “It’s better, depth-wise, top-to-bottom, than it has been in a few years.”

With injury and illness to deal with throughout much of the season — Reader injured herself in preseason, although her injury wasn’t the reason she didn’t compete Saturday — Los Alamos’ progression was slowed, but in its last two races, it seems to be coming back to form.

Along with the third-place finish at Rio Rancho, in which the girls finished first among the Class AAAA squads competing including their main rival Albuquerque Academy, the Hilltoppers won the Santa Fe Indian School Invitational Oct. 6.

Saturday’s finish over Academy was the first time in four head-to-head meetings between the team that Los Alamos had prevailed.

Los Alamos’ girls are led by Holly Walker, a senior, who had a big finish Saturday. Walker finished third overall, behind only Julia Foster of Academy and Myka Benally of Kirtland Central, two of the top girls runners in the state. Walker also defeated a very dangerous runner, Aleona Reyes, from Belen, another team Los Alamos will have to keep its eye on in the state meet.

Los Alamos’ boys, meanwhile, will be looking to make a move on Academy at Friday’s race. Academy is the top program in the state, regardless of class, but Los Alamos has made strides in past seasons to bridge the gap between it and Academy’s Chargers.

Last season, the Chargers won the Los Alamos Invitational with a total of just 34 points, but Los Alamos had its closest finish of the 2008 regular season against the Chargers, finishing with 73 points.

The two teams would go down to the wire at the 2008 state title meet, with the Chargers holding on for a 31.5-33.5 victory over the Hilltoppers. The scene was similar in 2007, with the Hilltopper boys feeding of a momentum-building home meet to upset the Chargers for the AAAA championship.

At Rio Rancho, Los Alamos scored 84 points, a solid total, but Academy managed a score of 31. Academy placed three runners in the top five with Pat Zacharias and Neil Longenbaugh finishing second and third.

The winner of Saturday’s race was Kyle Pittman of Los Alamos. Pittman, the reigning Class AAAA champion, is undefeated in New Mexico this season, although his closest contest this season was last week with Zacharias finishing just four seconds behind.

Behind Pittman, Tim Wermer has been consistent for most of the season and the younger crop behind them — Pittman was just one of two runners going into 2009 with varsity experience — has been packing well.

Along with Academy, Cibola, Rio Rancho and other schools in the Albuquerque metro area, Los Alamos’ District 2AAAA competitors Bernalillo, Capital and Taos are scheduled to attend Friday. The district championship meet will be held Oct. 30 in Bernalillo and is the only meet at which teams can qualify for the state championship meet.

Neither Los Alamos team is likely to receive much of a challenge on the way to their 10th straight 2AAAA titles.