Boys cross country: LA finishes 2nd to Chargers

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By Mike Cote

ALBUQUERQUE — The first meet of the season for the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys cross country team confirmed two things most people suspected.

Number one, Los Alamos is pretty good. Number two, so is Albuquerque Academy.

The Hilltoppers finished second behind Academy’s Chargers at Saturday’s University of New Mexico Invitational, run at UNM’s North Golf Course.

The Hilltoppers finished with 83 team points, behind the Chargers’ 52 points. Those two teams were the only ones to break triple-digits at the race, which attracted some of the best prep squads in the state.

It was as good a start to the 2008 season as Los Alamos was hoping for.

“We feel good,” runner Andrew Vierra said after the race. “We were excited. We were expecting quite a bit. Kyle (Pittman) and Gareth (Gilna) ran phenomenal races, and our pack was good.”

Pittman and Gilna went out like gangbusters from the get-go, sprinting to the front of the big crush in the first 300 meters, hanging with Eldorado’s Bryce Palmer, one of the top runners in Class AAAAA.

Pittman would finish fourth, running a sub 16-minute race.

He and Gilna would during the course of Saturday’s race establish themselves as major threats for the Class AAAA individual state title. Ahead of Pittman’s 15:50, Gilna ran a torrid 15:43, keeping within striking distance of Palmer for the bulk of the race until the last mile when Palmer would finally pull away.

Gilna would finish second, crossing the finish line in 15:43, holding off Eldorado’s Kevin Palmer for the runner-up spot.

Both Gilna and Pittman are among the top returners in the state in 2008, finishing sixth and seventh in last season’s state title race.

The Chargers, meanwhile, placed two runners in the top 10 and three in the top 11 to earn the victory.

Pat Zacharias, Academy’s top returning athlete, finished sixth overall.

Los Alamos and Academy have slugged it out for Class AAAA supremacy throughout this decade. Academy has won six of the eight AAAA titles handed out since 2000, with Los Alamos owning the other two, including the win in 2007.

With none of the other three AAAA teams cracking the top 10 in the team standings Saturday, things are shaping up for another war in 2008.

Last season, the Chargers dominated the UNM Invitational, earning a 69-point victory over the second-place Hilltoppers.

While there’s still plenty of work to do, Los Alamos will take Saturday’s solid showing and run with it.

“I think with the boys it’s what we expected,” Hilltopper co-head coach Kathy Hipwood said. “It’s what we envisioned would happen.”

Behind Gilna and Pittman, Nat Gustafson broke into the top 20 in his debut, while Vierra finished up in 26th place.

Los Alamos will have two other big meets in consecutive weeks, including the region-wide Liberty Bell meet in Denver, followed by another showdown with the Chargers at their house.

This opening month is the toughest of the Hilltoppers’ 2008 regular season schedule.

“I’m really pleased,” Hipwood said. “We’re moving in the right direction. The kids are excited and they’re hungry.”

Here are the results from Saturday’s University of New Mexico Invitational (runners are from Los Alamos unless otherwise indicated):

Team scores

1. Albuquerque Academy, 52; 2. Los Alamos, 83; 3. Cibola, 113; 4. Eldorado, 170; 5. Sandia, 211; 6. St. Michael’s, 212; 7. Rio Rancho, 214; 8. La Cueva, 215; 9. Navajo Pine, 241; 10. Manzano, 286; 11. St. Pius X, 316; 12. Hope Christian, 327; 13. Zuni, 359; 14. Pecos, 414; 15. El Dorado, Texas, 448; 16. Pojoaque, 458; 17. Highland, 461; 18. Albuquerque, 514; 19. Wingate, 533; 20. Volcano Vista, 552; 21. Jemez Valley, 560; 22. Sandia Prep, 567; 23. Peñasco, 604; 24. Estancia, 635; 25. Belen, 653; 26. Miyamura, 739; 27. Tohajilee, 751; 28. McCurdy, 752.

Individual results

1. Bryce Palmer, Eldorado, 15:28; 2. Gareth Gilna, 15:43; 3. Kevin Palmer, Eldorado, 15:44; 4. Kyle Pittman, 15:50; 5. Douglas Torres, St. Pius X, 15:56; 6. Pat Zacharias, Academy, 16:05; 7. Vincent Montoya, Cibola, 16:17; 8. Ryan Clark, Academy, 16:19; 9. Christian Meyer, Sandia, 16:21; 10. Ryan Fenton, Hope Christian, 16:23; 18. Nat Gustafson, 16:41; 26. Andrew Vierra, 16:55; 34. Austin Jacobson, 17:09; 36. Ben Havemann, 17:13; 55. Kevin Hemphill, 17:41.