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ALBUQUERQUE — The fourth time might have been the charm.
It went down to the wire at the Class 4A state championship meet this weekend, but the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls clinched their fourth consecutive state title.
Los Alamos needed virtually every bit of the top performances from its top athletes at the 4A state meet, held at the University of New Mexico Track and Field Complex, to earn its fourth title in a row. The Hilltoppers grabbed 78 points, just holding onto the top spot and fending off a stout charge from the Aztec Tigers.
The outcome of the team competition was still in some doubt until the 200 meters, when Amy Neal pulled off an upset victory and state championship, topping Aztec’s Kendra Mitchell and Goddard’s Araceli Macias, the top two seeds heading into Saturday’s final.
Giving the Hilltoppers some cushion were big late performances in the 3200 meters by Mikayla Pulliam and Amanda Mercer, who clinched the No. 4 and No. 6 spots.
The Hilltoppers once again relied on their mega-star Chase Ealey to lead them to victory and Ealey was as good as ever in her career finale.
Ealey, who earned her second-consecutive high-point athlete honor with a staggering 26 points, taking three individual state titles and having a hand in two relay titles.
She started off the state competition with a monster win in the shot put, demolishing the old state record she set as a junior. Her throw of 47 feet, 3 inches, was nearly five feet better than her winning mark a year earlier – which itself destroyed the state record of the previous year.
Later in the day Friday, Ealey’s javelin toss of 129 feet even gave her a second straight title in that event. Ealey was the top seed heading into the javelin, but by a mere six inches over Michelle Traynham of Valencia.
Interestingly, Ealey’s first throw of 123 feet was exactly six inches ahead of what would be Traynham’s best throw, 122-6.
Saturday, Ealey had a hand in three title runs for the Hilltoppers, including the 800 relay, something she didn’t even know she was going to run until talking to the media about the 100 meters being her final race.
After winning her fourth consecutive 100 meter championship — she hadn’t been defeated in the event since her freshman year — Ealey led off the state championship 800 run, making up the stagger in about 120 meters.
The team of Ealey, Chelsea Chalacombe, Hayley Schake and Amy Neal earned the win in the relay, with Neal coming back from a slight deficit to win the race going away. Ealey, Schake, Neal and Laura Wendelberger combined to take the 400 relay title.
Ealey hadn’t run an 800 relay at state since her sophomore year.
“I was really nervous,” she said. “When I was put in at the last minute I felt like I had to prove I deserved to be in the race.”
The 400 relay team scored a new state record with its finish of 48.65 in the final, which was actually .15 slower than its time in Friday’s preliminary round, but was a wholly impressive victory, especially considering Los Alamos didn’t enter the meet as the No. 1 seed in the event, that title belonging to one of the Hilltoppers’ main rivals for a team title, Los Lunas.
“We’re really excited about it,” Neal said. “(We were) just being positive, believing in our teammates, getting our handoffs down. Those are critical.”
Wendelberger picked up a big second-place finish for the Hilltoppers in the high jump Friday. Wendelberger was one of three competitors in the state tied for the third-best mark heading in, but she was the only one of those athletes that would go on to clear 5-2.
Wendelberger easily sailed over 5-2 on her first attempt while Grants’ Brianna Frank, Aztec’s Kayli Farmer and Roswell’s Shania Hernandez all struggled with the height and went out.
Nicole Jenrette of Los Lunas, one of 4A’s top all-around athletes this season, had cleared as much as 5-8 in 2012 and ended up breaking the state 4A record with her final jump of 5-6 1/2 — records can only be set at the state meet.
Going up against Jenrette wasn’t even a little bit of a deterrent for Wendelberger, who won the state high jump title as a freshman.
“I just jump as well as I can,” she said. “I’m OK with it.”
It was a big day Friday for Wendelberger, who also finished third in the long jump. Her third-place jump came on her first attempt. Although she was disappointed she couldn’t build on her mark of 16 feet, 10 inches, half an inch out of second place, she was ultimately happy with how she finished.
Jenrette won the competition big, leaping 17-10 1/2.