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ALBUQUERQUE — It was hardly a waltz, but the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls track and field athletes were again the belles of the ball.
Los Alamos grabbed its third consecutive state Class 4A title Saturday. It earned 74 points, holding off early challenges from Aztec and Kirtland Central at Saturday’s title meet, held at the University of New Mexico Track and Field Complex.
Along the way, the Hilltoppers finished with three state individual titles, all of them nailed down by junior Chase Ealey, who was the 4A girls’ high-point athlete this season and two relay titles.
“This one was hard,” said Los Alamos head coach Paul Anderson, who has guided the team to all three wins. “Everybody knew coming in that we didn’t have as much, that we had won it already, but it was rewarding, as much as any other season. This was just the gravy.”
Despite holding a lead for virtually the entire way of the two-day meet, the Hilltoppers were never comfortable with their overall point lead until near the end.
But the Hilltopper foursome of Victoria Trujillo, Victoria Honnell, Amy Neal and Madison Ahlers officially shut the door with a win in the final event of the day, the 1600 relay. As the anchor, Ahlers gutted out the final 100 meters after momentarily losing the lead to late-charging Belen and with Aztec right on their heels.
Ahlers retook the lead with about 60 meters to go and held on for the title.
The finish was personally huge for Ahlers, one of Los Alamos’ top athletes during her career. She was disqualified from the open 400 about an hour earlier for a false start.
“All the coaches said was ‘you know what? It’s fine,’” Ahlers said. “It was definitely redemption in the (1600 relay) for me.”
Things were plenty of bumps on the road to the title for the Hilltoppers this year, which tightened the standings up.
In Friday’s girls high jump finals, the Hilltopper contingent, which has been the dominant force in the event for two seasons, took the 4-6 places.
Los Alamos went into that competition with each of the past two state title holders, Lindsay Benage and Laura Wendelberger, among its top three, but none could get past the 5-foot height.
Meanwhile, Los Lunas’ Nicole Jenrette, who tied with Wendelberger for the top jump in the state during the regular season, nipped Roswell’s Shanice Steenholdt for the 2011 title.
Both jumpers went out on 5-6, but Jenrette won the tiebreker to claim the title.
Eighth-grader Chelsea Chalacombe finished sixth overall for the Hilltoppers.
In Friday’s preliminary running, the Hilltopper girls 400 relay team of Ahlers, Benage, Ealey and Amy Neal broke the 4A state record of 49.34 Los Alamos set last season, but didn’t even win the race. Kirtland Central’s squad posted a time of 49.11, while Los Alamos had a 49.26.
In Saturday’s final, however, Ealey blew past the anchor from Kirtland Central, one of Los Alamos’ chief rivals for a team title this season, to earn the win.
Other top finishes for Los Alamos included a solid showing by Teresa Sandoval in the girls 1600 meters. Sandoval finished a strong third place in the race, which was dominated by Academy’s Julia Foster, hands down the best distance runner in the state.
“You definitely have nerves and jitters because you’re going up against amazing athletes,” Sandoval said. “Since I’m younger and still improving, I’ve got a great opportunity against competitors who will pull me along.”
The hallmark of the Hilltopper teams during this impressive title run has been their focus not on individual titles or glory, but on keeping their focus set on the team competition and using that as their sustaining force.
“It’s definitely how we work as a team,” Ahlers said. “We have a team bond. I don’t know how, but we definitely have it.’