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ALBUQUERQUE — Starting its season against some of the best competition in the state of New Mexico didn’t seem to faze the Hilltopper girls cross country squad.
Los Alamos’ Hilltoppers placed three runners in the top 30, picking up a very respectable fourth-place finish at Saturday’s University of New Mexico Invitational. The Hilltoppers finished with 159 team points Saturday. The Class AAAAA La Cueva Bears finished with 86 points to win Saturday’s meet, 14 points better than the runner-up Albuquerque Academy, Los Alamos’ main Class AAAA rival.
The meet was held at UNM’s North Golf Course in conjunction with the Lobo Invitational college meet.
Despite the mostly-grass surface Saturday, the course can be hairier than it would appear at first glance.
“It was pretty tough,” Los Alamos senior Hannah Little said. “This is the fifth time I’ve run it. I’m pretty used to it, but it’s got a lot of changes. It’s got a lot of ups and downs, a lot of turns and a lot of difficult footing.”
Little was among the top Hilltopper finishers at Saturday’s race, the regular season opener for the squad. Little ran the 3.12-mile course in 21:06, placing her 30th against some quality opponents.
Many of the top squads in the state turn out for the UNM meet, including most of the Class AAAAA and Class AAAA contenders.
The Hilltoppers’ main goal heading into Saturday’s race was to start off well and try to avoid running from behind. Hilltopper co-head coaches Rob and Kathy Hipwood said an overall more aggressive running strategy was going to be key to improvement for the squad from the 2007 season.
For the most part, the Hilltoppers seemed happy with what they saw in the opener.
“Last year, we were too cautious in our running,” Little said. “This year, we really want to get after it.”
The Hilltoppers’ top returner from 2007, junior Holly Walker, took seventh in the race.
Walker stayed stride-for-stride for most of the race with Academy’s Julia Foster and Eldorado’s Allison Bedonie, who finished immediately in front of and behind her.
The race was won in impressive fashion by Academy’s Clara Milne. Milne opened up as much as a 25-second lead with about a kilometer to go and cruised to a 23-second victory over Elba Holgin of Albuquerque.
Megan Reader was the second finisher for the Hilltoppers, coming in 19th.
“I think they did well for what they’re ability levels are right now,” Kathy Hipwood said. “A few of the girls didn’t feel well coming in, but finishing fourth is better, relatively speaking, from last year. We do feel like they went after it.”
Last season, Los Alamos finished eighth at the UNM meet — it was the second meet of the 2007 season.
Reigning Class AAAA champion Belen, which upset both Los Alamos and Academy in the 2007 title race, finished in eighth with 234 points.
Saturday’s race was also kicked off the toughest three-race stretch of the season for the Hilltoppers. Los Alamos heads to the Liberty Bell Invitational, a region-wide race in Denver, Colo., this weekend, then heads to Academy’s home course for a meet Sept. 26.
Here are the results from the University of New Mexico Invitational (runners are from Los Alamos unless otherwise indicated):
1. La Cueva, 86; 2. Albuquerque Academy, 100; 3. Rio Rancho, 116; 4. Los Alamos, 159; 5. St. Pius X, 175; 6. Sandia, 185; 7. Eldorado, 233; 8. Belen, 234; 9. Cibola, 249; 10. Navajo Pine, 290; 11. Zuni, 315; 12. Albuquerque, 325; 13. St. Michael’s, 329; 14. Pojoaque, 352; 15. Manzano, 337; 16. Hope Christian, 437; 17. El Dorado, Texas, 444; 18. miyamura, 463; 19. Wingate, 475; 20. Highland, 476; 21. Volcano Vista, 508; 22. Jemez Valley, 641; 23. Peñasco, 681; 24. Estancia, 718.
1. Clara Milne, Academy, 18:51; 2. Elba Holgin, Albuquerque, 19:14; 3. Kate Norsong, St. Michael’s, 19:14; 4. Erica Firebaugh, La Cueva, 19:25; 5. Aleona Reyes, Belen, 19:26; 6. Julia Foster, Academy, 19:33; 7. Holly Walker, 19:38; 8. Allison Bedonie, Eldorado, 19:45; 9. Megan Quimby, La Cueva, 19:47; 10. Bronwyn Bedrick, Sandia Prep, 19:50; 19. Megan Reader, 20:26; 30. Hannah Little, 21:06; 45. Ariana Rowberry, 21:34; 62. Victoria Trujillo, 22:00; 64. Elizabeth Brug, 22:07; 75. Victoria Honnell, 22:22.