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Topper girls may be team to beat in 4A again

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Cross country: LA returns with deep, seasoned squad

By Mike Cote

There is no longer a question as to which girls cross country team is the heavyweight champion of New Mexico.
That team is the Los Alamos Hilltoppers. The Hilltoppers cemented that title in 2010 and there’s good reason to believe they can defend that title in 2011.
Los Alamos will open its season Saturday at the University of New Mexico Invitational Saturday morning.
The Hilltoppers picked up a historic win at the 2010 Class 4A state championship meet, earning their 15th team title, breaking a tie with the Gallup Bengals for most titles won by a program in state history.
In 2011, Los Alamos has many of its top runners returning along with several talented runners who have worked their way through the program. Los Alamos could be the deepest team in the state, and by a considerable amount.
“The team is doing really well so far,” Hilltopper Jennifer Mooday said. “We all trained during the summer really well. It just looks good. The season looks good.”
Mooday and veteran runner Teresa Sandoval, both juniors, will lead the team into the UNM Invitational, one of the biggest meets Los Alamos will compete at this season. Following them into this first meet are sophomores Emily Pittman, Jordan Parker, Mikayla Pulliam, Eliana Riciputi and junior Liz Turner.
But the Hilltoppers go at least 12 deep in varsity-level talent – many 4A programs in the state don’t even have 12 runners – and other runners from the sub-varsity level could emerge before the season is through, much like they did in 2010.
Many of the top teams in the state, including most of the top teams in the Albuquerque area, attend the UNM meet, where Los Alamos could already be poised for a big showing.
“The veteran girls did a fabulous job of coming into the season prepared,” Los Alamos co-head coach Rob Hipwood said. “Some of the kids had some setbacks during the preseason, so they’re going to have to be patient, but overall, I’m very pleased with how they did over the summer.”
The Hilltoppers had a surprising first-place finish at UNM in 2010, that coming off a season where they lost star Holly Walker. Following that race, however, the Hilltoppers went through several lineup changes and slowly built up a team identity before the big finish at the state 4A meet, where it finished with 42 points, less than half the total posted by runner-up Albuquerque Academy.
Los Alamos’ title-winning team was paced by Anna Wermer, who finished fifth overall. Wermer, who worked her way up from the junior varsity squad in 2010, is one of Los Alamos’ returners this season.
And while Los Alamos likes its chance for a repeat performance, it sees no sense in gambling.
“We know we don’t have it in the bag,” Mooday said. “We have to work just as hard as everyone else.”
The traditional top teams in 4A, Los Alamos, Albuquerque Academy and St. Pius X, are likely to be among the contenders for a state title again this year. Academy, however, will be without one of the best runners in the state over the past decade, Julia Foster, who moves on to Stanford University.
The Hilltoppers will run a similar 2011 schedule to what they’ve run in the past, with one notable exception. They will take part in the Twilight Invitational in Phoenix Sept. 30.
That event will take the place of the Liberty Bell Invitational in Colorado. Los Alamos was interested in the Twilight Invitational – so named because it’s run at night on a lit course – because it is held on the same course that the Nike Cross Regional meet is held.