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RIO RANCHO – In August, few people thought the Albuquerque Academy Chargers boys cross country team could be touched for the state 4A title.
But on Saturday, the Chargers were bitten by the underdog Los Alamos Hilltoppers.
Los Alamos pulled off a stunning upset over Academy at the 4A championship race at Rio Rancho High School. Los Alamos nipped Academy by 2 points to earn its third consecutive team title.
This season, Los Alamos had only two returners from its championship squad of 2012. Most of its roster consisted of runners who had never even competed in a varsity race.
But its two seniors, Colin Hemez and Mike Walker, combined with solid efforts down the stretch by its next three runners who had never run at state prior to Saturday, was enough to outpace the Chargers.
Hemez, who has been among the most consistent 4A runners all season, earned the state individual title with an outstanding time of 15 minutes, 54 seconds.
He didn’t take off until the second half of the race – he was barely in the top 10 about three-quarters of a mile in – but pulled away from one of the race leaders, Aaron Valenzuela of Belen, with about a mile left to pick up the individual title.
With Los Alamos’ team win, Hemez becomes the first Los Alamos runner in history to be a part of three state championships in his career. He said winning three state titles in a row was no accident.
“When it comes to state, our coaches are super-good at having us peak,” he said. “We have some great peaks, and the team this year is just so motivated, how much they embrace getting this experience.”
The race with the Chargers was tight throughout. At about the halfway point, Academy had a slight edge in the team competition, but half a mile later, that advantage had evaporated.
Following Hemez, Walker and Academy’s Kevin Wyss, a well-respected 4A competitor, were stride-for-stride with only about 30 yards to go. Walker, in full sprint and with his lean at the tape, topped Wyss by .05 seconds.
Because of Los Alamos’ heavy personnel changes in the offseason, it wasn’t expected to give Academy much of a run for the state title this season, but the Hilltoppers had slowly been creeping up on the Chargers throughout the season, including tying them through five runners at the Los Alamos Invitational two weeks earlier.
For Hemez, who has been the Hilltoppers’ top runner all season, he thought he had a chance to win the individual title.
“I just sort of started picking people off,” he said. “I just saw the one guy, or the one pack ahead of me and every single time thinking ‘get that one, get that one.’”
1. Los Alamos, 52; 2. Albuquerque Academy, 54; 3. Piedra Vista, 106; 4. Gallup, 147; 5. Belen, 173; 6. St. Pius X, 200; 7. Del Norte, 206; 8. Miyamura, 210; 9. Española Valley, 248; 10. Roswell, 253; 11. Kirtland Central, 257; 12. Santa Fe, 262; 13. Centennial, 319; 14. Farmington, 386; 15. Santa Teresa, 435; 16. Artesia, 452; 17. Goddard, 575.
1. Colin Hemez, 15:54; 2. Aaron Valenzuela, Belen, 15:56; 3. Niles Thomas, Miymura, 16:00; 4. Jared Garcia, Belen, 5. Kyle Carrozza, Academy, 16:15; 6. Zachary Grand, Santa Fe, 16:18; 7. Mike Walker, 16:21.00; 8. Kevin Wyss, Academy, 16:21.05; 9. Timberlin Henderson, Piedra Vista, 16:28; 10. Harrison Fleming, Piedra Vista, 16:37;
13. Gus Saeger, 16:53; 15. Cameron Staples, 16:57.55; 16. Forrest White, 16:57.90; 19. Connor Bailey, 17:10.15; 20. John Rees, 17:10.45.