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It’s an unusual position for the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys cross country team to be in: on the top looking down.
After many years of, more often than not, playing also-ran to the Albuquerque Academy Chargers, the Hilltoppers will go into Saturday’s Class 4A championship race as the favorites to win it all.
Los Alamos’ boys and girls take part in the state championship meet, which will be run around the campus of Rio Rancho High School. The Hilltopper boys will race at 11 a.m. and the Hilltopper girls are scheduled to run at 1:45 p.m.
The Hilltopper boys will have a shot at winning their second straight Class 4A team titles, a feat that has never been accomplished in the program’s history.
And while Los Alamos has had the edge over its main rival all season, the team’s runners are going to keep an eye out for Academy.
Meanwhile, the Hilltopper girls, who are also expected to win this season, are not as heavily favored as are the boys, largely because of St. Pius X.
The St. Pius Sartans have strong runners at the top of their lineup — including Julie Giannini and Marissa Nathe, who could contend for an individual title — but haven’t yet found the runners on the back end to contend with the deeper Los Alamos squad.
Although they may be pushed by the Sartans, the Hilltoppers are feeling confident heading in.
“I think we’re feeling good,” said Los Alamos senior Jennifer Mooday following the team’s decisive victory at the district championship meet last weekend. “We’re definitely going in strong. We’ll put up a good fight.”
Being the team to beat at state is hardly a new status for the Hilltopper girls, who are the most decorated program in state history. The Hilltoppers claimed their 16th team title last year with a lopsided victory over runner-up St. Pius.
In last year’s state race, Jordan Parker had a surprising runner-up finish, pacing four Los Alamos runners that cracked the top 10.
The 2011 win was the third straight state title for Los Alamos, which has only been defeated at state three times since 2000.
For the Hilltopper boys, they claimed their third state title last year. The 2011 victory was stunning, not only because it knocked off favorite Academy, but because it won by a huge 54-point margin.
Nick Hill, who finished officially less than a quarter-second behind Sean Reardon for the District 2-4A title, is the Hilltoppers’ top returning finisher from last year. Hill was third individually, while Reardon was fourth.
Hill and Reardon together could vie for individual titles Saturday, making one of them the sixth individual title winners in Los Alamos history — Kyle Pittman (2008-09) and Anthony Sandoval (1970-71) won two championships.