'Topper boys finish within eight points of AAAA power Academy Friday

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By Mike Cote

Just like it wanted to, the Los Alamos Hilltopper boys varsity cross country team inched closer to the Albuquerque Academy Chargers.

The Hilltoppers are hoping to upset the Chargers at the upcoming state Class AAAA championship race, and are as close as they've been all season. The 'Toppers finished just eight points behind the Chargers, the top-ranked team in the southwest at Friday's Los Alamos Invitational.

At the Los Alamos Invitational, held at Los Alamos Golf Course, the Hilltoppers placed three runners into the top 10, equaling the Chargers. Through those first three runners, the Chargers had just a one-point advantage over the Hilltoppers.

Allen Pittman blazed the field, save one member, for Los Alamos, with his time of 16:12 on the rolling golf course. He was followed by Kyle Pittman in fourth place (16:23), who nearly outkicked third-place finisher Kevin Palmer of Eldorado.

At the front of Friday's race, once again, was the undefeated Ben Johnson of Academy. Johnson blazed out to the front less than an eighth of a mile into Friday's race and kept expanding his lead throughout. He finished the 3.1-mile course in 15:30.

Hilltopper Kevin Hemphill, who finished 32nd overall in the very tough field Friday, said it was good for the team to face tough competition going into the final two races of 2007.

"It was nice having all these teams here," Hemphill said. "The last couple of weeks we haven't had a lot of competition."

But besides Academy, there was plenty of competition at Friday's race. Also at the race were highly-regarded teams like Class AAAAA schools Cibola, Gallup, Eldorado and Class AAA Pojoaque.

On Friday, Los Alamos dispatched them all in impressive fashion. Only third-place Cibola finished within 50 points of the Hilltoppers' second-place finish.

Following the Pittmans, Gareth Gilna was seventh overall. Gilna sat out the Santa Fe Indian School Invitational three weeks earlier, then had a disappointing finish at the Jaguar Invitational the following week, although he still finished seventh individually in that race.

Gilna had been fighting some respiratory problems, and those were still bothering him in Friday's race.

"I didn't feel great," he said. "It's been a rough few weeks. It was good (Friday). I was happy I was able to hang out for most of the race."

Gilna stayed right with the Pittmans at the two, three and four slots at the halfway point the race - Johnson by that time had a 13-second lead - but started to tire and gave way to Palmer and a pair of Academy runners with less than a mile remaining.

The field started the race at a blistering pace. Johnson, who is a very quick starter, had at least 10 runners on his heels at the start before he started to pull away.

"They always go out fast," Gilna said. "Especially with the elite teams, and the best five teams in the state were here, which is awesome."

At the end of the race, Los Alamos' Tom Bowidowicz saw he was trailing Academy's Ryan Clark and made a mad dash to catch up, but Clark just held off Bowidowicz's kick. Bowidowicz finished less than three-tenths of a second behind Clark's 14th-place finish.

The Hilltoppers will compete next at Saturday's District 2AAAA Championship race, which will be held on the campus of Espaola Valley.

On Friday, all four of Los Alamos' district competitors, Espaola Valley, Bernalillo, Capital and Taos were on hand. Bernalillo, finishing ninth in team competition, was the closest of the three to the Hilltoppers with 272 points. Capital didn't fill a full team.

Here are the results from Friday's Los Alamos Invitational (runners are from Los Alamos unless otherwise noted):

Team results

1. Albuquerque Academy, 38; 2. Los Alamos, 45; 3. Cibola, 91; 4. Gallup, 95; 5. Eldorado, 154; 6. Manzano, 162; 7. Pecos, 208; 8. Pojoaque, 220; 9. Bernalillo, 272; 10. Espaola Valley, 312; 11. Highland, 331; 12. Taos, 399.

Individual results

1. Ben Johnson, Academy, 15:30; 2. Allen Pittman, 16:12; 3. Kevin Palmer, Eldorado, 16:22; 4. Kyle Pittman, 16:23; 5. Pat Zacharias, Academy, 16:30; 6. Kyle Cooper, Academy, 16:36; 7. Gareth Gilna, 16:37; 8. Michael Montoya, Manzano, 16:38; 9. Vince Montoya, Cibola, 16:41; 10. Chris Montoya, Cibola, 16:43; 15. Tom Bowidowicz, 17:00; 17. Tom Witherell, 17:08; 29. Andrew Vierra, 17:45; 32. Kevin Hemphill, 17:53.