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It is a common position to be in for the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls cross country team, but not so much for the Hilltopper boys.
Going into the 2012 season, the Hilltopper teams are both solid favorites in Class 4A. Rarely is a team other than the Albuquerque Academy Charger boys the favorite.
But after losing just one senior off a team that demolished all comers at the 2011 state meet, including the vaunted Chargers, the Hilltoppers are doubtlessly the team to beat.
“We’re trying not to think about it,” said returning runner Orion Staples. “Obviously, Academy’s still a major threat. Again, we’ve got to run the hardest. It’ll be good if we can beat them.”
The Hilltopper boys will be paced by senior Sean Reardon, who had a monster track season. His spring culminated in an upset victory over Del Norte’s Jackson Thomas in the 1,600 meters and a runner-up finish behind Jackson in the 3,200.
Reardon posted his best finish ever in last weekend’s preseason dual against La Cueva, a notable 5A program.
Los Alamos has been a regular participant at the University of New Mexico Invitational, where the teams will open their season Friday.
This year’s UNM Invitational, which is run at the college’s North Golf Course, will institute some important changes, the biggest being the race will be run at night. The varsity girls and boys races will be run under the lights – the course had to be modified to accommodate the lighting fixtures and may be lightning fast. Staples said the winner at UNM, which attracts most of the top runners from around the state, might have to break 15 minutes.
The Hilltoppers are the reigning boys and girls 4A champions, with both teams scoring hefty victories last November.
The Hilltopper girls will return some key members of that team for this season, including seniors Jennifer Mooday – who was battling through a leg injury during track last spring but is running strong this preseason – and Teresa Sandoval. Along with them, the Hilltoppers have what is almost certainly the deepest lineup in the state with as many as a dozen girls vying for varsity time this year.
Los Alamos already owns a record 16 state titles and, if it can stay healthy, appears to be right in line to add to that total.
Sandoval said having high expectations on the team is something of a mixed blessing.
“You have people out there looking for you so there’s going to be pressure for you to succeed,” said Sandoval who finished sixth individually and third on the team in 2011. “But it’s also kind of fun.”
Los Alamos girls may still need to hold off the St. Pius X Sartans, who had strong distance runners for their spring track team, and Academy’s Chargers, who will now be helmed by Adam Kedge, the school’s excellent boys coach.
Because of several odd schedule conflicts this year, Los Alamos will be using a heavily-altered schedule. Most notably, the Hilltoppers won’t be making an appearance at either the Rio Rancho Jamboree or the Academy Invitational, two meets where they have been fixtures for several years.
“This year, not going to Academy or Rio Rancho, I was a little disappointed,” Sandoval said. “I was hoping my senior year to be able to race those.”
Los Alamos will send its teams to the Desert Twilight Festival in Mesa, Ariz., and to a meet in Socorro, that head coaches Rob and Kathy Hipwood heard was a good one, in September.
The Hipwoods, who are among the most decorated coaches in the history of New Mexico prep sports, were recently named to the state cross country and track Hall of Fame and were honored as Los Alamos’ top coaches of the 2011-12 season.
They said things have gone according to plan in the preseason.
“We’re definitely pleased with the start of the season and with the conditioning of the kids,” Rob Hipwood said. “There seems to be a lot of kids that came prepared for this season.”
Rob and Kathy Hipwood (19th year)
Aug. 31: at UNM Invite, TBA
Sept. 21: at Socorro Stampede, 4 p.m.
Sept. 28: at Desert Twilight Festival (Mesa, Ariz.), 5 p.m.
Oct. 13: at Los Lunas, 10 a.m.
Oct. 26: Los Alamos Invite, 3 p.m.
Nov. 2: District 2-4A Invite (Española Valley), 3 p.m.