'Toppers have big showing in first day of Harper Invite

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By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE – With the season quickly coming to a close, the Los Alamos Hilltopper track and field teams are hoping to peak at the right time.
That may be the case, if some of this weekend’s performances are any indication.
Los Alamos’ boys and girls competed in Friday and Saturday’s Richard Harper Memorial Invitational, hosted by the Albuquerque Academy Chargers. Los Alamos posted some big finishes in day one of the two-day event.
Final results for most of the running events had not been reported as of press time.
For Los Alamos’ boys, one of the biggest showings of Friday’s day one was turned in by Liam Johnson, a freshman, in the pole vault.
Johnson, who had never pole-vaulted prior to this season, cleared 12 feet to finish in second place for the Hilltoppers.
Earlier this season, Johnson said he felt fortunate just to make it over 8 feet, but said he stuck with his training.
“I just kept fighting through it,” Johnson said. “Just never giving up on anything.”
With the vault, Johnson will now represent Los Alamos at the upcoming state Class 4A championship meet — that’s scheduled for May 16-17, also in Albuquerque.
Johnson actually beat out his teammate, the team’s top vaulter, Seth Drop, based on misses. Drop, who has gone 12-6 this season, finished fifth.
Only Drop and Johnson finished among scorers in the event among the Class 4A competitors. The event was won by one of 5A’s title contenders, Manzano’s Hayden Walker.
Hilltopper head coach Larry Baca said if Johnson has a showing at this week’s Los Alamos Invitational like he had Friday, he may get a shot at breaking the school’s freshman record of 12-6.
Johnson said he’s not going to be satisfied with the Harper vault.
“I could always make everything better,” he said. “I’m a freshman and I want to make myself better for when I’m a senior.”
In Friday’s 800-meter finals, Colin Hemez finished fifth. He was ninth after one lap but started picking off runners with about 300 meters to go and ended up as the top finishing runner among Class 4A competitors, coming in at 1:58.62.
Mike Walker also earned a fifth place, that coming in the 3,200 meters. Walker, who had a strong final two laps, knocked down his season-best time in that race by more than 8 seconds.
The race was run at a torrid pace, with Cleveland star Jared Mayoral and Academy’s Kevin Wyss going out very fast. Walker, who was running in the ninth position, in the middle of the pack behind the front-running pack most of the way, made his move with about 700 meters to go.
In the last lap, Walker overtook another top runner from Cleveland, Aaron Flores, to earn the fifth spot.
“I stayed pretty consistent laps two through seven,” Walker said. “With a lot of these races, guys can go out really fast and all you can do with that is wait until they tire out.”
In the girls 3200, Sophia Galvez just missed out on a top six finish. Galvez came back after slipping down to 10th at about the midpoint of the race, but made a push in the final lap to battle back to the seven spot.
She tried to outkick Eldorado’s Cassey Amberg with 100 meters left, but Amberg had a strong finish of her own to thwart Galvez’s attempt.
MacKenzie Everett of La Cueva won that race in impressive fashion, topping Belen’s Arena Lewis, who had dominated the race for about 6-1/2 laps, to win in 11:23.57.
All of the field event finals were held Friday, including the high jump.
Los Alamos’ boys were hoping to capitalize on a big showing the previous week when they were able to qualify three jumpers in the same competition, all of which went over 6 feet.
While the Hilltoppers didn’t match that showing, they still all made it over 5 feet, 10 inches.
Skyler McCall had the best jump of the day for Los Alamos, clearing 6 feet in his first attempt and finishing second. Academy’s Parker Hibbett sailed easily over 6-4 to take Friday’s competition.
Greg Ahlers, who jumped a career best 6-2 at Santa Fe the week before, had been battling illness most of last week and was only feeling marginal heading into Friday’s competition. Ahlers finished tied for fifth place with his jump of 5-10.
On the girls side, Hilltopper Chelsea Challacombe picked up another victory in high jump. Challacombe, who earned a big win and big career best earlier this month at the Marilyn Sepulveda Meet of Champions, was the only leaper to go over 5-4 Friday.
Challacombe had no trouble with 5-4, clearing it with plenty to spare. Unfortunately, she seemed to have trouble with her approach while attempting 5-6 and couldn’t clear that height Friday.
The only competitor that came within two inches of her finish was Kyra Mohns of Eldorado, who cleared 5-2.
With just one week left in the regular season, Challacombe’s 5-8 mark is by far and away the best jump in girls track.
Challacombe also finished third in Friday’s long jump, going 17 feet, 2-1/4 inches. That event was won by District 2-4A foe Akeisha Ayanniyi of Santa Fe, who may be the jumper to beat in 4A this season. Ayanniyi earned an 18-2 1/4, which was almost a foot better than her nearest competitor.
Santa Fe, which has as good a shot as any team in the past 15 seasons to wrench the district championship away from Los Alamos in girls track, also made a huge splash in the preliminaries of the 400 relay.
Led off by emerging superstar Tiffany Garcia and anchored by Ayanniyi, that team ran a 47.60, a mark, if it were official, would’ve broken the Class 4A state record in the event – official state records can only be set at the state championship meet – which was set in 2012 by Los Alamos, as well as broken the 5A state record.
In the girls 800, the Hilltoppers didn’t get onto the podium, but in another fast-paced distance race, both Kathryn Stockton and Haley Butler-Moore punched their tickets to state.
Stockton, a sophomore, finished seventh with her time of 2:24.79, while Butler-Moore went 2:25.87, which placed her 10th overall.
See Tuesday’s Los Alamos Monitor for more results from the Richard Harper Memorial Invitational.