Track and field: Topper girls vying for 3rd straight state title

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By Mike Cote

This weekend, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls track and field team will be looking to continue its dominance at the Class 4A state meet.
Los Alamos seems to be well positioned to do just that at the 4A meet, which starts Friday and continues through Saturday at the University of New Mexico Track and Field Complex in Albuquerque.
The Hilltoppers, who are the two-time defending champions at the meet, have representatives in every event and some that are well positioned to vie for state individual titles.
Meanwhile, Los Alamos’ boys have high hopes of coming up with a big showing like they had in 2010, that coming from an underdog role.
Los Alamos’ girls posted decisive wins in both 2009 and 2010. In 2009, Los Alamos crushed all comers, posting a Class 3A, 4A and 5A best team total of 120 points, 47 points better than Albuquerque Academy and St. Pius X.
Last season, the Hilltoppers earned a healthy total of 103 points, winning six different events. Academy was the 4A runner-up, scoring 82 points. Kirtland Central was third with 57.5 points.
Hilltopper head coach Paul Anderson said there is plenty of competition in 4A that could make his team’s attempt at a three-peat a tough one.
“Valencia has a lot of kids that qualified pretty high,” said Anderson, who has led Los Alamos to three of the program’s four state titles. “Kirtland Central’s pretty loaded. Aztec has a slew of quarter-milers, which is a good thing to have right now. St. Pius X always steps up and Academy’s always out there.”
For the Hilltopper girls, Chase Ealey could pull off an individual trifecta, and an unusual one at that. Ealey is the top-seeded athlete in the shot put, javelin and 100 meters.
Ealey, a junior, is the two-time defending 100 meter champion in the state. In 2010, Ealey ran a 12.88 to earn her second sprint title. This season, Ealey has been clocked at 12.04, the best time recorded in 4A by a full tenth of a second.
Unfortunately, the shot put title eluded her last year. Ealey had far-and-away the best throw in the state during the 2010 regular season — her toss of 43 feet, 7-1/2 inches set a new school record by more than 2-1/2 feet — but at the state meet, Ealey didn’t break the 40-foot mark and was upset by Kirtland Central’s Melanie Heslop.
This season, Ealey recorded a 44-8, more than seven feet better than Valencia’s Jenae Wolfram, the only other shot putter in the state to throw better than 36 feet.
Los Alamos’ other returning state champ is high jumper Laura Wendelberger. Wendelberger, then a freshman, upset teammate Lindsay Benage, the 2009 state champion, in a jump-off.
Both Wendelberger and Benage are entered in the high jump competition along with Los Alamos eighth-grader Chelsea Chalacombe. Wendelberger is just one of two jumpers who have cleared 5-4 this season, while Benage and Chalacombe are among four other jumpers in 4A who have made 5-2.
Although the Hilltoppers have plenty of talent, they aren’t as deep as the 2009 or 2010 team — the 2009 Hilltoppers may well have been the best collection of athletic talent of any team in school history. However, the team, didn’t lose to a 4A competitor this season, with only St. Pius at the Capital City Invitational getting particularly close.
Anderson said his veteran squad isn’t terribly fazed about going to state or about getting a shot at a third straight title.
“Like always, we’re just going for one at a time,” Anderson said. “It’s kind of the same as it’s been all season. Some of them are feeling better than others. Things tend to feel a little worse around this time of year…hopefully, we’ll finish near the top or at least be in the mix for awhile.”
Los Alamos’ boys, who were something of a question mark heading into the 2011 season, have generally exceeded expectations under head coach Rob Hipwood.
“Looking three months ago, with most of our state points from last year pretty much moved on, we’re really excited with how we’re sitting 36 hours away from the meet,” said Hipwood, who along with wife Kathy has been one of the most successful head coaches in Los Alamos history, guiding the cross country program.
Los Alamos, which going into last season was also largely an unknown value, turned it on at the end and finished a respectable fourth at the 4A meet, earning 48.5 points, one-half point behind third-place Aztec.
Academy’s Chargers won the meet going away, securing 98 points, 33 points better than second-place Farmington.
This season, the Hilltoppers have gotten big performances out of veterans and newcomers alike.
The most notable newcomer in 2011 is senior Andy Thoma. Thoma, a soon-to-be Division-I soccer player who had never competed in varsity-level track prior to this season, is a serious state title contender in the sprint events.
Los Alamos’ boys bonded well this season — Hipwood gives a big share of the credit to team veterans like David Brock — and could be primed for another big showing at state.
“Everyone is very excited,” Hipwood said. “It’s been a great atmosphere all season long and it’s really been present this week. It’s been a fun group of boys to be around all season. They’re really focused.”
While the defending champ Chargers will likely be in the running for a team title this season, Artesia has good depth. Artesia, however, has been something of an underachiever at state for the past several seasons.
Artesia did post the best 400 relay time in the state this season, however. Los Alamos, which had numerous handoff issues in that race earlier in the year, posted the second-fastest, doing so at last week’s District 2-4A invitational.