Girls cross country: LA takes third at 4A title meet

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By Mike Cote

RIO RANCHO — Pulling off the upset proved to be too tall of an order for the Los Alamos Hilltopper girls cross country team Saturday.

Los Alamos had high hopes of knocking off the top-ranked Albuquerque Academy Chargers at Saturday’s state Class AAAA cross country championship, but Academy, which has been the AAAA favorites virtually since day one held on to take top honors.

Saturday’s race was run around the campus of Rio Rancho High School, finishing at the 50-yard line of Rio Rancho’s football field.

The Chargers earned just 60 points to grab their first AAAA championship since 2005. St. Pius X, which had a solid 2008 regular season, took second with 68 points and the Hilltoppers finished third with 74.

The defending state champion Belen Eagles, minus top runner Aleona Reyes, were fourth in the team standings.

It was an emotional finish for Los Alamos’ runners, particularly seniors Hannah Little and Ariana Rowberry, who finished 16th and 17th in team competition.

“They’re said because they’re seniors and they’re sad because they gave it all they had,” Los Alamos co-head coach Kathy Hipwood said. “But they laid it all out for the team.”

Individually, Academy’s Clara Milne, who went the entire 2008 season undefeated, handily won the state title. Milne missed the 2007 race with an injury but usurped the 2008 title from Santa Teresa’s Jackie Campos, who finished in the runner-up spot.

Los Alamos’ top finisher Saturday was Megan Reader, who came in fifth individually and third among team-associated runners. Her time of 19:20 was nearly a minute and a half better than her finish as a freshman last season.

“I’m happy,” Reader said after the race. “My goal was to make the top five and I did. The course was faster than last year.”

This season was a noteworthy won for Reader, a sophomore, who has been hampered by an Achilles tendon problem. But she has been able to overcome it in the latter half of the season in impressive fashion, winning the District 2AAAA individual championship Oct. 30 and then coming up big in Saturday’s state title race.

While Reader said the sandy parts of the course were a challenge for her, she was able to make up for any slowdown on the downhill portions.

Following the race, many of the Hilltoppers said the course was a good one that they could take advantage of.

“The hills are gradual, not steep,” Reader said. ‘That’s what Los Alamos is like. We’re used to these conditions. Asphalt, grass, dirt. We run on that every day.”

Holly Walker, who finished second at the state meet in 2007, finished 14th in team competition, while Victoria Honnell nipped Shiprock’s Alissa Gould to take 24th place and round out Los Alamos’ top five.

With Honnell’s finish, Los Alamos actually got five runners in before Academy, but Academy put three runners in the top six to hold off Los Alamos’ upset bid.

Hipwood said that despite the disappointing finish, the team would be able to put things in perspective.

“It was really a great season,” she said. “This is a close team and this is a mature team. We had our ups and downs. They were hoping it came out better in the end, but we’re proud of them. They’re a great bunch of girls.”

Final results will be printed in Tuesday’s Monitor.