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In 2013, the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls track and field team has a chance to cement its place as one of the elite programs of all time.
Leading up to this season, that move was led by one of the most charismatic athletes the program had ever seen, Chase Ealey. But now, the responsibility of leading the charge toward state-level immortality falls on a much more low-key team captain.
The Hilltoppers’ efforts heading into the final two weeks of the season are being guided by senior Laura Wendelberger. Wendelberger has carved her own niche in Hilltopper history, but unlike her predecessor, has done so with considerably less flair and with good ol’ fashioned sweat.
But even though Wendelberger is set to make her fourth appearance at the state meet for Los Alamos, the pre-championship jitters have already begun to set in.
“It’s kind of nerve-wracking,” she said. “But all I can do is run my best. I won’t let people’s expectations change my mindset.”
With Ealey, the two-time high-point athlete at the state meet now having a standout freshman year for Oklahoma State University, those looking to see if Los Alamos can pull off the 5-peat will have their eyes set squarely on Wendelberger.
History has shown, however, that she should be up to the challenge.
In 2010, as a freshman, Wendelberger pulled off an upset over teammate Lindsay Benage to win the state title in the high jump. She was the only competitor to clear 5 feet, 4 inches in the event to clinch the championship, just a week after clearing 5-2 for the first time in her career.
Wendelberger was unable to repeat as a sophomore or junior – she finished as the runner-up to Los Lunas’ standout athlete Nicole Jenrette last year.
This year, Jenrette, who also won the state title in 2011, is gone and that title is very much up for grabs.
This season, Wendelberger has cleared 5-5, the best jump recorded in Class 4A, although Shania Hernandez of Roswell and Kayli Farmer of Aztec are just an inch off her pace. Wendelberger may have a shot at Jenrette’s state record of 5-6 1/2.
“The door is definitely open,” she said. “But there’s a lot of good competition. I still have to walk through that door.”
At last weekend’s District 2 championship meet, Wendelberger had a dominating performance, winning four events — high jump, long jump, 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles — and helping the 400 relay team to a second-place finish.
Heading into the 4A title meet, Wendelberger seems to be the Hilltoppers’ best chance for securing a fourth high-point athlete award in five years. Ealey won in 2011 and 2012 and Emily Weeks was the 2009 high-point honoree.
Along with the high jump, Wendelberger is also the top seed going into the long jump by more than a foot. She is also looking to make a splash in the hurdle events, but has her work cut out for her in both the 100 and 300 distances.
Despite getting prepared to make her fourth appearance at the 4A state meet, she said she still feels plenty of jitters.
“I’m definitely nervous for state,” she said. “But I’m excited. The whole team is on an upward trend. That’s exactly how you want it.”
Wendelberger doesn’t plan on being finished with her track career after this weekend’s meet, however. The University of Notre Dame has expressed interest in her services and she got to see the Fighting Irish compete in an indoor meet earlier this year.
Wendelberger attended a camp at South Bend, Ind., earlier this summer and met with the jump coach at Notre Dame, who said the team could use her services next season.
But she said she’s only concentrating on the 4A state meet for now.
“The most important thing is this season,” she said. “We’ve already done the work and the training…I’m really, really proud of this team and how they pulled together. We have a lot of potential.”