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Prep cross country: Individual champs lead Storm, Eagles to team crowns

RIO RANCHO – One Albuquerque Academy high school state cross country streak came to an end Saturday, while another stretched into its third season.

Individually, new blood climbed atop the top step of the virtual podium on the girls side, while the top boys big school runners held serve.

CLASS 5A BOYS: As Cleveland’s Yonas Haile sped down the sideline at Rio Rancho Stadium leading to the finish, the person he was chasing had finished quite some time earlier.

Cleveland’s Yonas Haile signals first as he crosses the finish line at the 5A Boys State Cross Country Championships. Saturday. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Haile, who repeated as 5A champion in a time of 15-minutes, 49.55 seconds, was trying to keep up with Kirtland Central’s Kashon Harrison, who already had won in 4A.

“My main goal was to beat his time, because obviously he’s one of the best in the nation,” Haile said. “I was really focusing on how large a gap I could get on the second-place people.”

Despite Haile’s best effort, he was unable to track down Harrison, but he and his Storm teammates handily repeated as state champions with 62 points, well ahead of runner-up Clovis with 91.

“We knew we had a chance to win (Saturday) for sure just based on what had gone on all season long,” Cleveland coach Kenny Henry said. “But it’s something to actually do it. What makes is especially nice for me is we had four kids on this team that had never been at this meet before, which makes it scary but that’s what’s kind of nice about it is that we could go back to back with almost a whole new team.”

CLASS 5A GIRLS: There’s certainly nothing slow about Jasmine Turtle-Morales as she early on sped away from her opponents, finishing with a 25-second gap with a time of 18:22.45.

“The first mile, I wanted to take it a little slower,” said Turtle-Morales, who was runner-up last season. “And Olivia (Salter of Sandia) was right there behind me and I was kind of scared. When I saw the hill, I just powered up it. And the downhill, I just went. I just opened up more and more and more. I really wanted to get a good time too.”

Dragged along by their front runners, the Eagles pulled out a tight victory over Cleveland 57-65.

“I always tell them how bad you want it determines how far you can go,” said Eldorado coach Chokri Dhaouadi. “And they wanted it so bad. They have that commitment and the love for each other. They did this for each other. All week, they were talking about how much they love each other.”

CLASS 4A BOYS: Los Alamos snapped the Chargers run of three straight state championships, but it was Harrison who ran away with the individual glory, finishing in a lightning-quick 15:27.35, the fastest time since 2012.

Still, it was the compelling clash between the dominating programs in the classification that drew the attention — one of the two has won the state championship dating back through 1998. This time it was the Hilltoppers taking the narrow 42-49 victory based on the strength of Rafael Sanchez, Duncan Fuehne and Steven Strevell finishing 2-3-5.

“It was a slow process starting at the beginning of the year,” Sanchez said. “We just kept on gaining and keeping our eye on the prize. We knew they had a tough team this year, maybe tougher than a few years that they’ve had. But we were up to the challenge. We challenged ourselves every day in practice to get up there and maybe hold up the state trophy, which we did.”

CLASS 4A GIRLS: Academy’s Zoe Hunter’s battle with Hilltopper Norissa Valdez was a microcosm of the team race. While Hunter was able to finish in 18:56.60 to win the individual title almost 11 seconds, the Chargers also grabbed their third straight team championship 31-47.

Academy’s Zoe Hunter leads the pack of runners as they head into the hills on her way to an individual Class 4A team and individual title. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

“We started out pretty fast and I was side by side with Norissa Valdez from Los Alamos almost the entire way,” Hunter said. “We pushed either. It was fast. Hard.”

But toward the back stretch, Hunter pulled away.

“There’s a little tunnel by the solar panels — it’s kind of one track — and I pulled ahead,” she said. “The rest is downhill and I just went as hard as I could.”

CLASS 3A BOYS: Sandia Prep’s Epherem Zerai finished in 16:23.85 to win the individual title, the school’s first individual championship. The team title went to Zuni with 40 points, just ahead of Santa Fe Indian School’s 49.

CLASS 3A GIRLS: Skyler Gee made it an individual Sundevils sweep winning in 20:15.10, while Robertson won their first team championship since 2003, 87-92 over Zuni.

CLASS 1A-2A BOYS: Galvin Curley of Navajo Pine won the individual championship in 16:14.15, less than nine seconds in front of teammate and defending champion Michael Marshall. Their efforts helped the Warriors to a 31-49 victory over Pecos, ending the Panthers run of three straight championships.

CLASS 1A-2A GIRLS: The Pecos girls had to get their first-place medals and trophy early because had to get back home for a volleyball match Saturday night. But before leaving, the Panthers Vanessa Dominguez finished in 20:24.0 to lead her squad to a first-ever team championship, 36-39 over Academy for Technology and the Classics.

(Click here for complete team, individual results.)

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