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Taking it to the next level

This story has been changed from its original version to correct the identification of runners in the photographs.

The cross-country season is off to a running start as a couple of local schools look to build on their performances of a year ago.

The Pecos boys have had a remarkable run, winning three straight Class 3A championships. Coach Patrick Ortiz is looking for the Panthers to maintain that stronghold, despite losing three of their top seven finishers from a year ago.

Pecos’ Devin Gonzales, right, is one of the Panthers top returning runners, finishing ninth at the state meet last season. (Glen Rosales/Albuquerque Journal North)

The good news is that Pecos still returns four runners who were among the top 25 state meet finishers from last season in Isaiah Armijo (third), Angel Varela-Gomez (sixth), Devin Gonzales (ninth) and Isaac Gonzales (16th).

“We’re a little young, but I feel like we have a pretty good understanding with a good summer and what running cross-country is,” Ortiz said. “They’re just getting used to a varsity race and the environment, and were pretty anxious at first. But I think we have a lot of opportunities.”

As for specific expectations, Ortiz said his goal is to prepare the team to run each race, gradually building their shape and confidence to be ready for November’s state meet.

“I try to let them know, summer is a big point, but they did well there,” he said. “During the year, different months, different times, we focus on different things. I try not to let them get too overwhelmed with expectations. I want them trying to figure out their type of running style and what type of runner they are, and to really enjoy their sport and help guide them to do what they do best and having fun.”

For the Panthers girls, a runner-up finish last year could be the spark to send them to the top this season, Ortiz said.

All five of the top state finishers return in Vanessa Dominguez (fourth), Faith Flores (sixth), Savannah Ortiz (eighth), Alexis Gonzales (15th) and Kianna Quintana (25th).

“These girls have been around each other for three-plus years,” Ortiz said. “Two years ago, we were pretty excited that we got to compete for a trophy, getting third. Last year, we were second to Cottonwood Classical. What I like about this girls team, there’s fire coming from their eyes. They kind of got a good taste of what it takes last year and they seem to be pretty excited about coming back.”

At Pojoaque Valley, a runner-up finish for the Elks will be a tough task to repeat, coach Allen Lockridge said, as it’s a young squad this year.

Joseph Gutierrez is one of the Elks’ cross-country runners this season. (Glen Rosales/Albuquerque Journal North)

Pojoaque does return top state finisher John Hall (fifth), and Lockridge expects more from his younger brother Zach Hall (43rd). Santiago Romero (28th) is the other returning state runner. Soccer player Sebastian Rubio is a first-time cross-country runner, but he’s shown a lot of promise.

“I don’t have a deep bench,” Lockridge said. “We’re not going to beat the world. I’ll take what I have because they really work hard and are producing, but I lost so many to graduation.”

The Elkettes are looking to build on their promise of year ago when they finished sixth at state.

Four of their top seven finishers from state are back: Amerie Onesalt (12th), Michaela Martinez (23rd), Taylor Roybal (25th) and Alcia Sanchez (60th). Track distance runner Mia Vigil is expected to fit right into the lineup, as well.

“My kids have won 23 state trophies, first second or third, over the years,” Lockridge said. “All I do is look in the door and these kids perform. I’m blessed year after year to have great kids. I’m ready for them to perform.”

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