The hometown team stole the show at the USATF National Junior Olympic Cross-Country Championships at Balloon Fiesta Park on Saturday.
The Cougar Track Club captured seven of the 10 team titles in the age categories for which it had full teams, showing that New Mexico could defend its home turf.
“What it says is that Cougar Track Club is beginning to develop a legacy and a culture of distance running here in Albuquerque,” coach Shane Cleveland said. “It’s very exciting.
About 2,400 runners competed in Saturday’s championships. For additional results, go to www.usatf.org and search “Events”.
“It’s one thing to really pop up on the national stage in a year like last year, and then it’s another thing to follow it up with an even better performance. Honestly, I didn’t think it could be done.”
Ivan Pineda-Dominguez was the lone individual local winner, capturing the 3-kilometer Midget Boys (ages 11-12) national title in 10 minutes, 10.17 seconds. He held off North Carolinian Coleman Mitchell (10:23.31) and Pineda-Dominguez’s Cougar teammate Jericho Cleveland (10:25.33).
“It’s a great feeling to win but I think it was a tough race to win,” Pineda-Dominguez said. “It wasn’t easier that I was at home.”
What made Pineda-Dominguez’s performance more impressive was how inexperienced he is at distance running.
“It’s been a real blessing to have Ivan join our team,” Cleveland said. “This is his first year running as far as I know. He’s been swimming. He’s got a great future ahead of him.”
Pineda-Dominguez said having his coach’s son, Jericho, driving him forward was nothing but a positive.
“That’s a great feeling to have someone you know behind you,” Pineda-Dominguez said. “We really push each other. It was good to have him right behind me.”
The Cougars took the team title in the Midget Boys with 57 points, finishing well ahead of the Corona (Calif.) Panthers, who had 121.
In addition, the Cougars claimed the Sub-Bantam Girls (ages 7-8), Sub-Bantam Boys, Bantam Boys (9-10), Midget Girls, Youth Girls (13-14) and Intermediate Girls (15-16) team titles. It seemed the younger the age category, the more the Cougars dominated.
“That has been one of the keys to our success is a high retention rate, so we’ve been able to work with some of these kids for two to three years,” Cleveland said.
The only events in which the Cougars fielded a full team but did not come out on top were the Bantam Girls, Youth Boys and Intermediate Boys. They did not field full teams in the Young Women (17-18) and Young Men races.
Other top individual finishers for the Cougars included Leah Futey, who came in third (7:49.50) in the Sub-Bantam Girls. Jamin Harlan (7:37.79) was second in the Sub-Bantam Boys, with Albuquerque Athletics’ Adam Schulthess coming in right behind him in 7:40.27.
Albuquerque Athletics’ Daniel Roberts was seventh (11:32.28) in the Bantam Boys, followed by the Cougars’ Brian Armijo (11:36.69) in ninth.
The Cougars’ Molly Klein took third (14:45.65) in the Youth Girls. Teammate Julie Giannini was second (19:22.07) in the Intermediate Girls behind Olivia Hayden (19:14.34) of Colorado.
Sandia Prep’s Rachel Fleddermann, who ran unattached, was fourth (20:02.79) in the Young Women’s 5K, followed closely by the Cougars’ Jacqueline Katzman in fifth (20:07.84).
As for the event itself, Cleveland said he heard few complaints with the pleasant weather and lack of wind.
“Anything can always go better, but I don’t really see any meaningful way it could have gone better.”
Cougar Runners Protect Home Turf
— This article appeared on page D4 of the Albuquerque Journal