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Heading into the postseason, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls cross country team is still the squad to beat in Class 4A.
But its top two competitors clearly aren’t going down without a fight.
Los Alamos had a tough battle at its home invitational Friday, taking on two solid 4A teams in St. Pius and Albuquerque Academy. Los Alamos prevailed, but the scores were tight.
The Hilltoppers finished with 57 points at the meet, held amid cold, slick conditions at Los Alamos Golf Course. St. Pius’ Sartans, who went 1-2 individually in Friday’s race, was second, just 8 points behind, while Academy was third with 74 points.
Despite the scores being closer than might have been expected going in, the win was still a solid one for the Hilltoppers, who are looking to defend their four consecutive state titles as they go into the 2013 postseason.
Hilltopper Jordan Parker, who has been struggling with knee issues much of this season but still finished 20th at the golf course, said the race was a good one to get Los Alamos ready for the postseason.
“It went by pretty fast,” she said. “The competition was pretty high. It was very competitive for the front spots.”
Kelli Reagan of St. Pius was the meet’s top finisher. Reagan finished with a time of 19:09, a strong time given the cold, breezy conditions.
Reagan topped her teammate, Julie Giannin, by 11 seconds, for the strong finish at the front of the pack for the Sartans.
The big knock on St. Pius, which features those two strong runners and have had other strong runners in the recent past, is that their depth isn’t nearly what Los Alamos’ has been, although, to be fair, it’s a rare year when a 4A team has the luxury of that type of depth.
“To their credit, their 4 and 5 runners seem to be getting better each week,” Hilltopper head coach Rob Hipwood said. “It’s nerve-wracking to run against teams with front-runners that are that good.”
Reagan and Giannini led the race from virtually the first step, but Los Alamos, which relies on its ability to pack its runners tightly, did so very well right behind the duo from St. Pius, with Mikayla Pulliam, Nica Vasquez and Sophia Galvez running within a few feet of each other for the bulk of the race.
However, Galvez, one of the most talented young runners in the state, eventually fell off the pace. Galvez, who suffers from allergies, was affected by the grass course and struggled at the very end of the race.
She needed medical attention following her finish, although she was expected to recover. A similar situation for Galvez occurred at Los Alamos’ first meet of the season, also held on a golf course.
Pulliam was Los Alamos’ top finisher of the day, taking fourth overall, just two seconds ahead of Vasquez in fifth place.
Amanda Mercer also cracked the top 10 Friday, taking seventh place overall.
Conditions weren’t ideal by any stretch of the imagination, but the Hilltoppers persevered to pick up the win.
“I did pretty OK,” Parker said. “It was hard. My main goal was to keep up with Mikayla…but other than that, it was definitely a struggle. But we’ve worked hard this whole year. It was definitely worth it.”
Here are the results from Friday’s Los Alamos Invitational. Runners are from Los Alamos unless otherwise indicated.
1. Los Alamos, 57; 2. St. Pius X, 65; 3. Albuquerque Academy, 74; 4. Taos, 94; 5. Cleveland, 104; 6. Santa Fe, 141; 7. Pojoaque Valley, 173; 8. Hope Christian, 209; 9. Santa Fe Indian School, 237; 10. Española Valley, 287.
1. Kelli Reagan, St. Pius, 19:09; 2. Julie Giannini, St. Pius, 19:20; 3. Cameren Kristensen, Academy, 19:44; 4. Mikayla Pulliam, 19:58; 5. Nica Vasquez, 20:00; 6. Hannah Baca, St. Pius, 20:09; 7. Amanda Mercer, 20:12; 8. Noel Prandoni, Santa Fe, 20:16; 9. Brittany Lovato, Cleveland, 20:22; 10. Dara Procell, Academy, 20:28;
20. Jordan Parker, 21:03; 21. Sophia Galvez, 21:03; 26. Julia O’Brien, 21:24; 34. Eliana Riciputi, 21:46.