Girls cross country: LA sticks together, picks up big home victory

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By Mike Cote

Calling it a buzzword might be something of a misnomer, but it was the word floating around most among the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls cross country team Friday.
And on the odd chance that there were any doubters among them, that doubt was erased in a matter of about 15 seconds at the Los Alamos Invitational.
At the meet, traditionally the last of the regular season for Los Alamos, all six of the Hilltoppers’ competing runners crossed the finish line in order, from four through nine, to earn a big victory.
Los Alamos finished with just 30 points on the meet – held at Los Alamos Golf Course –  just slightly more than half of the total of its arch-rival Albuquerque Academy.
With just the District 2AAAA championship standing in their way of a shot at a repeat state title, the non-believers are becoming fewer and further between.
“The coaches really know how to train us properly,” Hilltopper veteran runner Megan Reader said. “We’re definitely starting to peak for state. We have high spirits and we have complete faith in our coaching.”
Under cool but otherwise favorable conditions for the girls race Friday – the weather turned a bit windier and chillier prior to the start of the boys race about 20 minutes later – the Hilltoppers came roaring out of the gate and quickly took control of the race other than the Julia Foster portion of it.
Academy’s Foster, one of the most decorated runners in the state in recent history, including being the reigning AAAA individual champion, took off at the opening and led the contest from wire-to-wire, topping her nearest opponent, Manzano’s Caroline Lewiceki, by nearly a full minute, not even looking winded when she broke the plane of the finish line.
However, right behind Foster, Eliana Riciputi set the pace for Los Alamos early, staying virtually even with Cibola’s Kimberly Chapman through about the first two miles before Chapman started to pull away.
Just behind Riciputi were the rest of her teammates, almost as one, who were outgutting several Academy runners that were within striking distance at about the halfway point but never made a serious push to break up Los Alamos’ pack.
Heading into the meet, Los Alamos had an inkling that something big might happen.
“I think we were really excited to start and really excited to run as a team,” Los Alamos’ Elizabeth Brug said. “We’ve had lots of team meetings talking about having a pack mentality...hopefully, we’ll do it again.”
Emily Pittman, who is statistically ranked as Los Alamos’ most consistent runner this season, finished fourth overall and first among the Hilltoppers with her time of 20:24, holding off a late charge from Anna Wermer, who was filling at the varsity level with two of the team’s regular starters, Jennifer Mooday and Victoria Honnell, both out sick Friday.
Los Alamos, the reigning Class AAAA champ, will, as usual, probably be duking it out with Academy for the 2010 state crown. Few other AAAA teams have shown they can hang with either club this season.
Friday’s victory was the second-straight week the Hilltoppers topped the Chargers, although the Chargers didn’t bring a portion of their top squad to the previous week’s Rio Rancho Invitational.
But the win at the meet without Honnell and Mooday could give the Hilltoppers the mental edge they need to seal the deal.
“We weren’t expecting to come in like that, but we worked as a team,” Reader said. “We’re really proud of that. (Friday), we had two of our top runners not able to run, but we wanted to make them feel like they were out there with us. They were running out there with us.”
Or maybe that was just faith.

Girls varsity

Team scores

1. Los Alamos, 30; 2. Albuquerque Academy, 56; 3. Bernalillo, 122; 4. Santa Fe Indian School, 136; 5. Cibola, 137; 6. Manzano, 155; 7. Santa Fe Prep, 177; 8. Hope Christian, 235; 10. Highland 259; 11. Pojoaque, 278.

Individual results

1. Julia Foster, Academy, 18:33; 2. Caroline Lewiceki, Manzano, 19:30; 3. Kimberly Chapman, Cibola, 20:17; 4. Emily Pittman, 20:24; 5. Anna Wermer, 20:25; 6. Teresa Sandoval, 20:25; 7. Eliana Riciputi, 20:28; 8. Elizabeth Brug, 20:30; 9. Megan Reader, 20:39; 10. Marisol Mendoza, Bernalillo, 20:56.