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Topper teams gear up for AAAA meet

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By Mike Cote

It was a pretty typical post-workout for the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls cross country team Tuesday.They were putting tape on their legs and spraying them with tanning oil, eating pizza and gathering up their Native American war princess outfits.Just another post-workout session prior to the Class AAAA state championship meet.The Hilltopper cross country squads like to keep up traditions, such as striping their legs prior to the state meet, which is set for Saturday at Rio Rancho.The biggest tradition between the boys and girls squads, however, is a winning tradition.Los Alamos’ girls will head into Saturday’s race trying to add to their impressive total of 13 state titles, while the Hilltopper boys will be trying to upend superpower Albuquerque Academy, which has won three straight state titles and eight of the last nine.The teams and the coaching staff can hardly wait to get started.“Everyone’s really feeling rejuvenated,” Hilltopper senior Margaret Wood said. “It’s exciting to see how strong we could be.”It’s an interesting situation for Los Alamos’ girls this season, as it will be the first time in quite a while they don’t go into the state title race as the favorites. Los Alamos won the AAAA meet last season, placing four runners in the top 10 individually, three of whom are in the starting lineup for Saturday, including Wood, the 2006 state runner-up.While mentally that takes some of the pressure off the girls, they don’t necessarily see themselves as underdogs.“On the girls side we feel it’s really even with us, (Albuquerque) Academy and Belen,” Hilltopper co-head coach Kathy Hipwood said. “Academy we beat at the home meet, although they were without their top runner. With her, it would’ve been a very close race. It’s very even.”Los Alamos’ boys, meanwhile, have been ranked second in the statewide cross country poll the entire season, right behind their arch-rival, Academy.Los Alamos and Academy have squared off four times this season. Academy has gotten the best of Los Alamos in all four of those races, but in their most recent meeting, the Oct. 26 Los Alamos Invitational, the Hilltoppers came within seven points of upending the Chargers.The ’Topper boys are well aware it’s going to be a knock-down, drag-out fight Saturday.“It’s going to depend on how people are running, how they feel,” Los Alamos’ Kyle Pittman said. “If one person isn’t having a good race, it’ll make it really hard. It depends on how everyone’s feeling.”Pittman had a breakout season in 2007, finishing in the top 10 individually in all eight of his races this season, finishing second twice.Kyle and Allen Pittman will be on the short list of state individual runner-up threats Saturday for the boys — defending champ Ben Johnson of Academy has yet to be challenged in any race this season — and emerging superstar Holly Walker could be among those vying for an individual title on the girls side.The course at Rio Rancho seems to play right up the Hilltoppers’ alley. The course has a couple of steep hills in the first mile, some up-and-down spots in the middle and some straightaway at the end, which could make for some exciting finishes.“It’s one of my favorite courses,” Wood said. “It’s a little sandy in placeseebut some places it’s packed. There’s some pavement, but not too much.”Los Alamos will start Walker, Wood, Adrienne Larson, Ariana Rowberry, Hannah Little, Megan Stockton and Megan Reader on the girls side.For the Hilltopper boys, the Pittmans, Gareth Gilna, Tom Bowidowicz, Tom Witherell, Kevin Hemphill and Andrew Vierra will get the starting nod.