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RIO RANCHO — It would take a total team effort. And that’s just what happened.It was a tall order the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys cross country team was trying to fill going into Saturday’s Class AAAA cross country championship, held at Rio Rancho High School. The task was to knock off three-time defending champion Albuquerque Academy, which was ranked among the elite squads in the nation.But an all-out assault by the Hilltoppers, who put five runners into the top 10 Saturday was enough. The Hilltoppers pulled out a six-point victory over the Chargers to win the boys team title.“It’s amazing,” Los Alamos’ Gareth Gilna said after learning his squad had capsized the Charger juggernaut. “This is the best day of my life!”At about the 1-mile mark in the race, it appeared Academy was well on its way to a fourth straight title, with six Chargers running in the top 15.But Los Alamos’ three top runners, Allen Pittman, Kyle Pittman and Gilna stayed within striking distance of the front-runners.Meanwhile, Tom Bowidowicz and Tom Witherell were running stride-for-stride with each other, slowly closing in on four closely-packed Academy runners.It would be Bowidowicz and Witherell who would ultimately cement the win for Los Alamos. The two finished just one-tenth of a second of each other. “Tom and I just kept going,” Bowidowicz said. “We all talked, and we knew what a painful race it was going to be…We all knew we could do it.”Their running together was by design.“Me and Tom B., (Friday) night and all day (Saturday), decided we’d stick together,” Witherell said. “He started pushing, then I started pushing.”Friday night prior to the race, the team had some specific ideas about what it would need to do to upend Academy. Key among them was to keep “Tom-squared” together.“They ran incredibly,” Hilltopper co-head coach Kathy Hipwood said. “Everyone in our program knew the Toms could be up there.”After the race, the Hilltoppers’ Allen Pittman, who finished fifth overall, could barely stand, but he had enough energy to throw his arms around his teammates when it became apparent Los Alamos had won.Ben Johnson of Academy took the Class AAAA individual title for the second straight year, easily outdistancing St. Pius X’s Kevin Burnett. Johnson finished in 15 minutes, 36 seconds.Saturday’s race was the fourth time in 2007 Los Alamos and Academy went head-to-head. Academy won each race, but Los Alamos slowly chipped away at Academy’s lead, coming as close as seven point in the teams’ previous meeting, the Los Alamos Invitational.Much the same thing occurred in the 2003 season, the last time Los Alamos upset Academy to take the state title. Los Alamos trailed Academy throughout the season until the Los Alamos Invitational, where it took a one-point victory.Following Allen Pittman, Kyle Pittman was sixth overall, capping a breakout season for the freshman, and Gilna finished just five seconds back in seventh.Witherell and Bowidowicz were 10th and 11th overall, respectively.“What a great way to end it,” Hipwood said. “Coming off where we were last year, we started a little slower than we expected. We were still a solid second to everyone else except Academy…but we worked through that adversity, some injuries, some illnesses and some boys who had never run varsity before.”The team will head, along with its Academy counterparts, to the Nike Team National regional qualifying meet, which will take place in Tempe, Ariz., at the end of the week.But for now, the Hilltoppers will relish in their huge upset win.“We all did all that we could,” Bowidowicz said. “You don’t want to talk about it too much, you don’t want to get in the mindset that you can’t do it. All of us ran with our hearts.”
Here are the results from Saturday’s Class AAAA Championship meet (runners are from Los Alamos unless otherwise indicated):
Team results1. Los Alamos, 34; 2. Albuquerque Academy, 40; 3. St. Pius X, 112; 4. Shiprock, 144; 5. Grants, 155; 6. Española Valley, 187; 7. Farmington, 194; 8. Aztec, 211; 9. Artesia, 235; 10. Silver, 254; 11. Bernalillo, 265; 12. Roswell, 302; 13. Goddard, 376.Individual results1. Ben Johnson, Academy, 15:36; 2. Kevin Burnett, St. Pius, 15:50; 3. Patrick Zacharias, Academy, 15:57; 4. Josh Garcia, Belen, 16:05; 5. Allen Pittman, 16:09; 6. Kyle Pittman, 16:16; 7. Gareth Gilna, 16:21; 8. Douglas Torres, St. Pius, 16:28; 9. Richard Bautista, Farmington, 16:29; 10. Tom Witherell, 16:30.55; 11. Tom Bowidowicz, 16:30.65; 22. Kevin Hemphill, 17:20; 24. Andrew Vierra, 17:32.