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There aren’t many programs out there that have been a lot more successful than the girls cross country program at Los Alamos High School.
A big part of that has been the coaching of Rob and Kathy Hipwood.
And now, the two coaches have the hardware to prove it.
The husband-and-wife duo were named the 2014 National High School Athletic Coaches Association Coaches of the Year in girls cross country. The Hipwoods were honored in a ceremony last week in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
In 20 years of leading Los Alamos’ girls and boys programs, they have garnered 15 state girls titles. Since 2000, Los Alamos has won 11 titles, including five consecutive titles not once but twice.
While winning titles is certainly the icing on the cake, that’s hardly why the Hipwoods do what they do.
“It feels really good, getting an award for what we’ve dedicated our lives to for the past 20 years,” Kathy Hipwood said.
The Hipwoods were among eight coaches nominated nationally.
Coaches from New Mexico did very well this year, grabbing 11 total nominations. In boys cross country, Allan Lockridge of Pojoaque Valley earned a nomination, as did his boss, athletic director Matt Martinez, who was up for AD of the Year.
The Hipwoods coached the Hilltoppers to their first team title in 1994 and the program has been rolling along very well since.
Los Alamos hasn’t lost at the state meet since 2008 and is the early favorite to pick up another honor this year, despite losing starters Mikayla Pulliam and Amanda Mercer.
While after 20 years one might guess there isn’t many tricks Rob and Kathy don’t know, they did pick up some extra insight, and inspiration, at the NHSACA conference.
Each of the nominees gave a 30-minute presentation to its sports-specific group. During those presentations, there was plenty of information shared.
Rob Hipwood said one of the things he was most impressed by at the conference was the coaching going on at smaller high schools. Some schools were building solid cross country programs with little more than 100 kids enrolled – the Hipwoods are used to having nearly that many kids coming out just for cross country year-in and year-out.
In addition to Los Alamos’ girls cross country team championships, now 17 in all, making it the second-most decorated girls program in the state following Kirtland Central basketball, the Hipwoods have directed Los Alamos’ boys cross country program to all five state championships it has won – all of those coming since 2003 – and a runner-up finish at a national running event in 2007.
Challenges, of course, still persist for the cross country coaches.
“It’s always in the backs of our minds, are we going to maintain those numbers?” said Rob Hipwood. “Are the next generation of kids going to motivated to keep going?”
That concern was part of the reason the Hipwoods helped get a cross country program started at Los Alamos Middle School, so that young athletes could get a taste of what it’s like to compete in the sport. Rob Hipwood said the LAMS program was already paying dividends to the big clubs.
The Hipwoods started at Los Alamos after successful collegiate running careers at Adams State College in Alamosa, Colo., where they met. Rob Hipwood was an All-American Division II runner for the Grizzlies during his career. For several years, the Hilltopper programs started their seasons at the Joe I. Vigil Invitational in Alamosa, Vigil being the Hipwoods’ college coach.
Los Alamos’ girls program hit its stride in 2000 when the school moved up to Class 4A. Los Alamos won five consecutive titles during that time, paced by perhaps the greatest runner to come through the program, Kristen Hemphill.
During its current streak, the Hilltoppers haven’t had that big-name superstar, but their depth has been enough to clinch some decisive victories at the Class 4A level.
“As far as sustaining it, we know we’re not going to be state champs every year, that’s an unrealistic expectation,” Kathy Hipwood said. “But in terms of being successful at a high level, success breeds success. The kids want to be part of something positive and something successful. We’re focusing on keeping the program fun to be a part of.”
There is no magic bullet for what the Hipwoods have done through their careers. While there is constant tweaking of the training regimens – they said the program is considerably different to what it was 10 years ago – the same basic philosophies they’ve used since day one are still a big part of what they do now and will continue to do.
And the national award is proof those philosophies work.
“It’s a reminder of the simplicity of it all,” Rob Hipwood said. “It’s the relationship with the kids, the ability to work with young people on a daily basis. Not just for running, but for life.”