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Whatever pressure there may be heading into the Class AAAA boys cross country meet appears not to be on the Los Alamos Hilltoppers. At least not any external pressure.
Heading into the Class AAAA championship race, which is scheduled for Saturday at Rio Rancho High School, Los Alamos knows that it’s not expected to win but has enough confidence to pull off what could be another monumental upset.
Once again, Los Alamos will go in as the only team with any real shot of giving the mighty Albuquerque Academy Chargers a run for their money. Academy, the 800-pound gorilla of New Mexico prep cross country, has been a dominant force throughout 2010 and topping it will take some doing.
It’s hardly a new position for the Hilltoppers to be in heading into the state title race.
“I think we’re really ready,” Los Alamos’ Josh Bowman said. “We’re definitely prepared. We’ve got great coaches and we’ve worked hard for it this year. We’ve got a shot to give Academy a scare and maybe even an upset.”
The nationally-ranked Chargers have failed to win just two state titles since joining Class AAAA in 2000. Those two losses came in 2003 and 2007 when the Chargers were stunned by the Hilltoppers.
It would be very difficult to predict the Hilltoppers’ chances to pull off another shocker this season, but few gave the 2003 or 2007 teams much of a chance.
“We really have to work together as a team,” Hilltopper veteran Tim Wermer said. “We have to push off each other and just see what happens.”
Academy, for its part, has been dominant in virtually every race it has taken part in this season, including picking up a comfortable win at the multi-state Liberty Bell Invitational early on.
Possibly the Chargers’ closest call of the season came two weeks ago at the Los Alamos Invitational. While the Chargers still won by a solid margin, 27-45 over the Hilltoppers, it was the first time in 2010 the Hilltoppers had managed to crack the Chargers’ top five runners.
In both the 2003 and 2007 state title races, Los Alamos also had its best showing of the season against Academy at the home meet.
Historically, Los Alamos has excelled at the end of its seasons and, even when it’s completely outmatched on paper against Academy, almost always seems to make the state race interesting.
“Anything can happen,” Hilltopper senior Ian Pulliam said. “We’ve got keep our heads on straight, run our best, run for the team. We’re both two great teams.”
Following up on their solid outing at their home meet, the Hilltoppers once again rolled over the competition at the District 2AAAA meet last week, earning 19 points and an individual title for their No. 1 runner Daniel Roybal. It was the first victory for Roybal, a senior.
Roybal will need to turn in a big race Saturday at Rio Rancho, a course that challenges runners in every facet of their games, from hills to sand to rough grass and other rough terrain. The team cut back its workout mileage substantially this week to get in peak form prior to the race. In just a couple of lighter workouts, the runners have already been able to feel the difference.
“I definitely feel like we’re in amazing shape for this time of the season,” Bowman said. “Last week, we felt really good at districts.”