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State Titles Punctuated 2010

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By Mike Cote

They were among the biggest wins in the history of Los Alamos sports. And they came to pass on the same day.
Both the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys soccer team and the girls cross country teams pulled off victories for the ages in early November, highlighting a wild year of sports action.
On Nov. 6, Los Alamos’ boys soccer team won just its second New Mexico Activities Association team title and its first since 1986 with a remarkable run in the state Class 4A playoffs this season. Its state title raid included three consecutive upset wins over two of the state’s elite programs and culminated in dominating one of the hottest teams in the state in 2010.
Earlier that day, the Hilltopper girls cross country team cemented its place in the annals of state history, grabbing its 15th state team title, a new record, eclipsing the previous mark held by the Gallup Bengals.
Los Alamos earned its record win with a dominant performance in the state title meet, held at Rio Rancho High School.
The team, comprised of Anna Wermer, Teresa Sandoval, Eliana Riciputi, Jennifer Mooday, Emily Pittman, Megan Reader and Victoria Honnell, picked up 42 points, the lowest total of any girls team at the race, including the mighty Eldorado Eagles in Class 5A. That total easily outpaced the Albuquerque Academy Chargers — the only team in the 4A race that had a reasonable chance to defeat the Hilltoppers — who finished with 88 points, even with the individual victory by Julia Foster.
Los Alamos’ top
finisher in the state race, Wermer (fifth, 20:02), was not even on the varsity roster at the start of the season, but worked her way onto the big club after an impressive showing on the junior varsity squad during the early part of 2010.
To grab their title, the Hilltoppers placed four runners in the top 10 individually, with Sandoval finishing right behind Wermer, Riciputi, another sub-varsity call-up in 2010, taking ninth and Mooday finishing 10th.
“We have a mixture of experience and inexperience. They put it together,” Hilltopper co-head coach Kathy Hipwood said following the race.
Kathy, and husband and co-head coach Rob Hipwood have guided the Hilltopper girls to 12 of the 15 state titles, including back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010 and one of the most impressive title runs in the history of the state, 2000-2004.
Later that day, the Hiltopper boys soccer team snapped one of the most notorious title droughts in New Mexico.
Paced by senior midfielder Andy Thoma, who would after the season be named the Class 4A Player of the Year, the Hilltoppers dismantled Belen, scoring three times in the first half and cruising to a 4-1 victory and the state crown.
Thoma finished with a goal and two assists in the game, running virtually at will through the Belen back line all night. Nicholas Castaño, Paul Hemez and Cooper Christensen all tallied goals in the championship game to clinch the title.
Heading into the state title game, Belen had lost just two contests in 2010, albeit one of those came at the hands of the Hilltoppers early in the season.
During the state tournament, Los Alamos earned revenge for two regular season losses. Los Alamos knocked off both the Albuquerque Academy Chargers and the St. Pius X Sartans — the most successful program in state history — on consecutive nights.
One day before Los Alamos’ 1-0 upset victory over the top-ranked Sartans, Los Alamos knocked off the Chargers 2-1. In September, the Hilltoppers lost a 3-2 overtime decision at home to the Chargers, a game in which they led 2-0 with just over two minutes remaining in regulation.
The Hilltoppers were the state’s cardiac kids throughout the regular season but more than made up for it with their memorable state tournament run.
Los Alamos’ fourth-year head coach, Evan Gartz, who played with the team during some of its most agonizing seasons, was named the Coach of the Year in Class 4A following the victory.

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Teed Off

It was a big golfing season around Los Alamos County.
Along with plenty of talk amongst the County Council about giving Los Alamos Golf Course’s clubhouse a long overdue makeover, the two biggest tournaments of the season were again memorable affairs.
The Atomic City Invitational, held in July, was as notable for who didn’t win as who did. Eddie Sanchez, the two-time defending senior’s champion, was upset in his bid for a third title by newcomer Bruce Norman. Norman outlasted both Sanchez in the second round and Brian Colby in the final round to earn his first senior’s title.
In the men’s title flight, Santa Fe golfer Lee Sanchez, coming off a 2009 season which earned him the state’s Amateur Player of the Year, was seeking his record-tying fifth tournament championship, but was dropped out of title contention by Curt Norman in the quarterfinals.
Curt Norman finished second in the ACI, falling in the finale to Parker Ashton, 5 and 4. Ashton, one of Lee Sanchez’s protégées from St. Michael’s High School, breezed through four rounds to claim the title on his first try.
Curt Norman would bounce back later that month to pick up the Los Alamos City Championship. Norman held off challenges from his brother, Jason Norman, the two-time defending City champion, in a playoff, as well as past champion Cale Jones, to pick up the victory.
In women’s competition this season, Ev Griggs, the most decorated golfer in Los Alamos history, earned her ninth ACI victory, while Tami Martinson successfully defended her City title, topping runner-up Barbara Schmitt by five strokes.
Reid Griffith earned the senior men’s City title with an impressive seven-shot victory over John Montoya and John Stam.

The Fame

In June, longtime radio and public address announcer Gene Mortensen was inducted into the New Mexico Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame.
Mortensen began his broadcasting career in the mid-1980s for KRSN AM 1490, after several years of doing PA at Los Alamos High School, when he was approached by then-station owner Dean Burns to call the 1985 state soccer tournament.
In 25 years on the air, Mortensen has been a regular at Hilltopper football and basketball games, both boys and girls.
“I can’t think of anybody who’s more deserving of this honor,” former Hilltopper girls basketball coach Gerry Washburn said of Mortensen’s induction in June. “Gene works tirelessly to promote Hilltopper sports and he’s extremely supportive of girls athletics.”
Mortensen was nominated for the honor by current KRSN co-owner Gillian Sutton.

Tri as they Might…

A streak was snapped this year, nixed by construction along Diamond Drive.
The Los Alamos Triathlon, which is believed to be the longest-running multi-sport event in the county, was downgraded this season to an “aquathlon” by Los Alamos County.
Because of the expansive road construction in Los Alamos, much of it along a big section of the usual route for the triathlon’s bike leg, the bike portion of the race was dropped. Instead, the county chose to include only a running and swimming portion.
The triathlon had been held every year since 1976.
Viktor Zyemtsen and Amy Cole were the top overall winners in this year’s event, with Zyemtsten topping Jimmy Archer, who had won the men’s overall title in both 2008 and 2009.

Here are other sports stories that made headlines in 2010:

• In January, Larry Baca was named the top boys track and field coach in the state by the National Federation of State High School Coaches for the 2009 season. Baca resigned his post following the 2010 season, but said he may return in 2011.

• In February, Hilltopper standout athletes Holly Walker and Kelsey Neal both signed National Letters of Intent to play for the Colorado School of Mines. Alex Nichols, Kyle Pittman, Sammi Kao, Shaina Riciputi and Emily Weeks would all sign letters to continue their athletic careers during the school year.

• In March, the Hilltoppers bounced back from an early-round loss in the New Mexico Interscholastic Ice Hockey League playoffs to capture the pure team state title. Los Alamos knocked off its arch-rival, Taos, 4-1 in the finale to grab its first team title since 2001.

• In April, Los Alamos’ Chase Ealey broke a 22-year old school mark in girls shot put. Her throw of 43 feet, 7-1/2 inches was more than 2-1/2 feet better than the record set by Mara Beverwyk in 1988.

• In May, the Hilltopper doubles tennis team of Patrick Raichur/Matt Whicker picked up the school’s first boys doubles title since 1989, topping Jordan Key/David Zumwalt of Albuquerque Academy in the championship round in straight sets.

• In June, Rotem Ishni and Mindy Caruso took top honors at the Tour de Los Alamos bike race. The race, held for the 38th consecutive year, is the oldest bike race in the country and attracted 170 participants.

• In July, pro golfer Mhari McKay, who lives in Los Alamos, finished 34th at the LPGA U.S. Open, held at Oakmont, Pa. McKay finished with a four-day total of 298 in her first major since taking a year off to give birth to her son, Angus.

• In August, new Hilltopper football head coach Garett Williams won his debut as Los Alamos defeated Pojoaque 40-0 at Sullivan Field. Williams replaced 20-year veteran coach Bob Scott, who retired last year.

• In September, the NMAA gave a nod for high schools to hold spring football practice, return the state baseball playoff first round to a best-of-three format and the state softball tournament to return to a double-elimination bracket, among other changes.

• In October, Ben Rees and Zoe Challacombe were the top overall finishers at the 2010 Elementary School Mile Run, held at Los Alamos Golf Course. Barranca Mesa and Chamisa won the overall school team titles.

• In November, former star boys basketball player Alex Kirk made his collegiate debut with the New Mexico Lobos. Kirk became the first player in Lobo history to post a double-double in his first game as a freshman, scoring 10 points and grabbing 10 rebounds against Detroit University.

• In December, Los Alamos Senior Olympian Dan Miles, one of the most decorated swimmers in New Mexico, celebrated his 90th birthday by swimming 90 lengths of the pool at Larry R. Walkup Aquatic Center.