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The Albuquerque Academy Charger boys have been the cream of the Class 4A cross country crop for most of this century.
But the last two years have been dominated by the Los Alamos Hilltoppers.
To keep that title, however, will be a challenge in 2013.
The new-look Hilltoppers will make their debut Saturday at the University of New Mexico Invitational, a meet that regularly attracts 30 or more prep teams and can be daunting for young runners.
This season, the Hilltoppers will have plenty of those young runners starting for them.
Gone from last year’s team are its top three finishers at state, including 2012 individual Class 4A champ Nick Hill. Hill led Los Alamos to a crushing victory over the Chargers in the team competition.
Los Alamos scored just 22 team points, among the lowest totals ever recorded at the state meet, placing five of its seven runners in the top eight overall.
This season, however, Academy has lots of talent and experience returning, while for Los Alamos, several runners with little or no varsity experience will be called up to the big squad and will be tested right off the bat.
“We’re not quite sure what to expect yet, especially on the boys,” Los Alamos head coach Rob Hipwood said. “We’re going to have a lot of inexperienced kids running varsity for the first time, but at the same time that’s really exciting to see a whole new batch of kids that have to come through. It’s baptism by fire, in a sense, at UNM.”
Being asked to steer the ship are its top returners off last season’s squad, Colin Hemez and Mike Walker.
Walker, a senior, finished 12th for the Hilltoppers at the state meet in November.
He said, despite hurting his quadriceps muscle during summer workouts about a month ago, that he’s ready to go and the team, despite its youth, should be OK by the time the Hilltoppers get into the stretch run.
“I feel like we have to do La Cueva and UNM to really know what direction our team’s going in,” Walker said, talking about the two-team scrimmage with the Class 5A La Cueva Bears the Hilltoppers had two weeks ago. “La Cueva to figure out who team’s going to be, and then UNM to figure out where are team is among all the teams in New Mexico. I’m looking forward to UNM to see what it will be like, but it definitely doesn’t set the end of the season. It doesn’t define how the results are going to be at the end of the season.”
For Hemez, he’s being spoken of as a potential contender for a 4A individual title this season. Hemez finished sixth overall in the championship race last season, finishing in a time of 16 minutes, 30 seconds, and his coaches said his attitude and commitment to the program is second to none.
Behind their two veterans, the Hilltoppers will have little varsity experience starting in its top seven at UNM. Los Alamos has elected to go with Victor Kim, Connor Bailey, Greg Ahlers, Cameron Staples and John Rees, but the Hilltopper coaches think it’s probable that lineup will change a few, or perhaps several times over the course of the season, as Hipwood said his Nos. 3-10 are very close to each other in terms of ability.
He did say, however, getting everyone shaken out to see where they may fall could take awhile.
“Some of them may emerge really quickly and they’ll figure it out, but that is certainly our challenge the next few for those boys,” Hipwood said. “That will be interesting to see how that pans out with some of them.”