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It’s been a long time coming.
Since the 2000 realignment, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys cross country team had beaten the Albuquerque Academy Chargers exactly twice.
Make that three times now.
Los Alamos, which had been nipping at the heels of its arch-rivals since the start of the 2011 season, finally broke through in a big way Friday afternoon at the Los Alamos Invitational. The Hilltoppers picked up a decisive victory over the Chargers Friday, scoring 40 points to the Chargers’ 66 points.
Los Alamos’ second place finish marked the first time since 2007 and just the third time since 2000 that Los Alamos had gotten the better of Academy, long considered the premier cross country program in the state. Los Alamos’ two previous victories over Academy both came in the form of upsets in the Class 4A state championship race, once in 2003 and the other in 2007.
The 2011 season has been different from most, however. Los Alamos started off the season within a hair’s breadth of the Chargers and in their four head-to-head meetings, Los Alamos had always been within just a handful of points.
In prior years, including 2003 and 2007, the Hilltoppers started the season well back of the Chargers and made their move late to get to within striking distance. The Hilltoppers, traditionally, make more gains during the regular season than do the Chargers, which makes the team feel upset-minded at state again this season.
Friday’s race, at Los Alamos Golf Course, was run on a challenging up-and-down grass and gravel path.
But neither the course nor the altitude seemed to have much of an effect on Cleveland’s Luis Martinez, one of the premier runners in the state. Martinez took control of the race less than a quarter-mile in and left the remaining pack in the dust, finishing in just 15 minutes, 54 seconds, 42 seconds better than his nearest foe, teammate Aaron Flores.
Cleveland’s Storm, the odds-on favorites to grab the Class 5A state title this season, won the meet handily. The Storm placed four runners in the top six for a score of 24 points.
Right behind, them, however, the Hilltoppers had a huge outing from their top runners. Hilltopper junior Nick Hill kept ahead of the main pack virtually the entire way Friday. At about the halfway point of the race, Hill trailed only Martinez despite the up-tempo pace throughout.
Hill would eventually be overtaken by Flores, but finished well ahead of everyone else except teammate Alexander Romero.
Following the race, Hill said his team wasn’t particularly more motivated than it usually was against Academy.
“It’s a really tough race,” Hill said. “We gave them a run for their money. We know we have to keep going for it.”
Romero, for his part, would make a move with about a mile to go, distancing himself from the pack as well.
At the finish line, three Hilltoppers would cross before the first Charger completed the course and a fourth would finish before the next Charger got in.
Hill, Romero, Sean Reardon and Zak Kennison all cracked the top 10 individually, while Daniel Romero would finish 17th, outsprinting Academy’s Reid Longley and nipping Longley by less than half a second.
This was the first time in five meetings this season the Hilltoppers have knocked off the Chargers. Given that, the Chargers will still be favored heading into the 4A championship, although the door of opportunity is wide open for the Hilltoppers after Friday.
“We’ve been striving for this all season,” Hill said. “We’ve never had our best runs all on the same day. We were nervous, but we were hoping to all have great runs (Friday).”
Here are the results from the Los Alamos Invitational. Runners are from Los Alamos unless otherwise indicated.
1. Cleveland, 24; 2. Los Alamos, 40; 3. Albuquerque Academy, 66; 4. Hope Christian, 180; 5. St. Pius X, 184; 6. Santa Fe Indian School, 212; 7. Española Valley, 224; 8. Santa Fe Prep, 228; 9. Pojoaque, 231; 10. Las Vegas Robertson, 245; 11. Taos, 249; 12. Santa Fe, 287; 13. Capital, 353; 14. Bernalillo, 416.
1. Luis Martinez, Cleveland, 15:54; 2. Aaron Flores, Cleveland, 16:36; 3. Nick Hill, 16:47; 4. Alexander Romero, 16:49; 5. Matt Smith, Cleveland, 16:57; 6. Jared Mayoral, Cleveland, 16:58: 7. Sean Reardon, 16:59; 8. Ryan Lesansee, Academy, 17:06; 9. Zak Kennison, 17:08; 10. Dustin Enyeart, Cleveland, 17:10;
11. Isaiah Lopez, Cleveland, 17:11; 12. Ethan Long, Academy, 17:12; 13. Jordan Farrell, Academy, 17:14; 14. Julian Rivas, Cleveland, 17:15; 15. William Longenbaugh, Academy, 17:18; 16. Christopher Graham, St. Pius, 17:18; 17. Daniel Romero, 17:19.28; 18. Reid Longley, Academy, 17:19.76; 19. Jesse Madalena, Santa Fe Indian School, 17:23; 20. Colin Hemez, 17:35; 28. Aaron Bao, 18:01.