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While going into new, unfamiliar territory is usually enough to get one’s nerves fired up, Matt Felton isn’t feeling that way. Not by a long shot.
Of course, Felton, the new head coach of the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys track and field team, has plenty of people around to offer him some friendly advice when he needs it, including the two previous head coaches of the program.
Felton, who was hired this past fall, officially opened his tenure two weeks ago at the Rio Rancho Chili Quad. After a big showing at last week’s Albuquerque Public Schools kickoff meet, the team is readying this week for a meet hosted by District 2-4A rival Bernalillo.
The preseason and the start of the regular season could’ve scarcely gone better and he credits the entire Hilltopper athletic apparatus for a solid opening.
“Los Alamos athletics is second-to-none,” he said. “That starts at the top with athletic director Vicki Nelms and goes all the way to our volunteer coaches.”
Two of Felton’s assistants this year are Larry Baca, the longtime boys track coach who stepped down following the 2010 season after retiring from the school system, and 2011 track coach and longtime cross country coach Rob Hipwood. He’s also working with Ed Pulliam and Blake Wood, among several others, who have made the transition for him very smooth.
“With the knowledge base of all the coaches, you’re looking at almost 100 years of combined experience,” he said.
Felton spent the past two seasons as a track and field assistant before taking the head coaching job. He inherits a solid team with a lot of potential, including the best distance squad in the state.
He said the biggest gap Los Alamos has to fill is in the middle distances. The team doesn’t have a true 400-meter runner — a distance that comes into play in two relays as well as the 400 open race — and could convert one of its distance runners to an 800-meter participant.
Los Alamos finished a surprising third in the 2011 state championship meet, within striking distance of first place Artesia, and has a diverse lineup which could make it a force to deal with at state again this season.
Felton said he feels his job is not only to produce high-quality athletes, but high-quality community members as well and said he’s already seen that from his team.
During the preseason, Los Alamos’ competitors hosted a 1-mile run to benefit a Rio Rancho athlete so she could receive treatment for a heart condition. The run raised nearly $500.