Pair of Hilltopper coaching vacancies get filled

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By Mike Cote

It’s been a busy few days around the Los Alamos High School athletic office. Busy, but productive.

LAHS announced the hiring of two new coaches for this season. Sunday, former boys track and field head coach Larry Baca officially returned to his old position and Monday, Stuart Corliss was named the boys and girls swimming and diving head coach.

With the additions of Baca and Corliss and barring any further changes, Los Alamos now has a full slate of head coaches for the 2013-14 school year, although there are still three vacant assistant jobs open at the high school and a coach opening at the middle school, according to the Los Alamos Public Schools’ website.

Baca is hardly a newcomer. He was the longest tenured head coach at his position when he stepped down following the 2010 season, having coached the Hilltopper boys track program for 26 years.

His leaving following the 2010 season wasn’t entirely his own decision, however. Per public school regulations, Baca had to step down from his post after retiring from his teaching job that same year.

Since then, he has served as an assistant coach around the track program.

Prior to throwing his hat into the ring for another go helming the program, Baca said he was a bit hesitant.

“I didn’t think I could get excited by being a head coach again,” he said. “But after I found out that we had only one applicant (for the head coaching job), I got really excited, because of what the kids in this program are capable of. We have the best assistant coaches anyone can ask for.”

Under Baca, the Hilltoppers won 18 straight district titles, one of the most impressive streaks in state track history and one that hasn’t yet been snapped. Since Los Alamos joined District 2-4A in 2000, the Hilltoppers have picked up crushing victories at the district championship meet every year.

In 2008, Baca led the Hilltoppers to state Class 4A team title. Los Alamos scored a whopping 92 points — led by two of the greatest individual efforts in Hilltopper championship history from Gareth Gilna and Ruben Martinez — and snapped a six-year run at the top of 4A by the Albuquerque Academy Chargers to take the title.

Following his retirement, the Hilltoppers have had two head coaches in three years. Veteran cross country coach Rob Hipwood took over on an interim basis in 2011 and Matt Felton steered the program in 2012 and 2013 before stepping down shortly after May’s state championship meet.

Baca said his main goal prior to the spring season is to get as many athletes out for track as he can, a job he admits will be more difficult because he’s no longer a teacher and isn’t on the LAHS campus on a daily basis.

He said that any students that have ever had an inkling to try track and field are welcomed to go out this spring and do just that.

Monday, Los Alamos officially hired Corliss, who brings an impressive resume to the post.

Corliss boasts a NCAA All-American swimming honor during his days with Stanford University.

From there, he coached the De Anza Cupertino (Calif.) Swim Club to a national title in 1980 and was also an assistant at Stanford following his competition days there.

He has also worked with Olympic organizational committees during the Sydney Games in 2012 and the Atlanta Games in 1996. He worked with NBC Sports during the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

Corliss holds a MBA from the UCLA Graduate School of Management.

He moved to Los Alamos in 2008, citing the excellent academic credentials of LAPS, but said he knew little about the swimming programs on the Hill until doing some research into the Aquatomics’ program for its 50th reunion earlier this summer.

While doing so, he said, he became excited with the prospect of being involved in Los Alamos swimming.

“This town has a strong tradition of swimming,” said Corliss. “The high school team won 9 state titles in a row in the late ’70s and early ’80s. That legacy is tremendous.”

It was at that time that he was first introduced to Bill Hudson, former LAHS coach and one of the founding fathers of prep swimming in New Mexico.

Corliss will take over for Rusty Bernstein, who stepped down in April. Bernstein was originally hired for the 2008-09 season along with co-head coach Cindy Black — Black left the program following 2009-10 season.

Under Bernstein, the Hilltopper girls had their best finish at the 2010 state meet, earning the runner-up spot, while Los Alamos’ boys were third at the 2009 meet.

Last season, Los Alamos’ girls finished in sixth place and the Hilltopper boys ended up in 10th place.
Those are marks Corliss said he wants to see improve and believes, with the good nucleus of talent Los Alamos has coming back, should improve.

“I hope the people that want to be involved stick their toes in the water at the Walkup Center,” Corliss said. “We won’t be going in until late October. There’s a lot of talent, but therre is a lot of competition for that talent with other activities.”

With the hiring of Corliss and Baca, Los Alamos appears to have wrapped up a busy few months in terms of coaching jobs. In all, four head coaches left their teams since January.