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Prep cross country: State’s best set to be off and running

Piedra Vista’s Triston Charles, left, and Clovis’ Jerrick Maldonado finish neck-and-neck in the boys Class 5A state cross country meet on Nov. 9, 2019. Maldonado was originally declared the winner, but came forward and gave up his first-place medal when video revealed he finished second. Thus, Maldonado could be a favorite, physically and sentimentally, when the 5A boys run again on Saturday at Albuquerque Academy. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

The state cross country meet has been given a COVID-mandated makeover.

There is a new venue – Albuquerque Academy, taking over from Rio Rancho High School. And the course at Academy, different from the one the Chargers usually lay out, will be slightly less than a full 5K, at 3.0 miles.

There are fewer overall qualifiers in this shortened season. The scoring, too, has been revised. As opposed to teams running seven athletes and scoring five, this week, it is five runners, four to be scored.

And we mentioned the masks, right?

Classes 4A, 3A and 1A/2A will run their state races Friday afternoon at the Academy. The Class 5A boys and girls run Saturday.

BOYS: Cleveland is the three-time defending big-school champion, and the Storm has a couple of featured newcomers: Ricardo Rangel, who had run track but is new to cross country, and former Santa Fe Indian athlete Chris Humetewa. He can run with Cleveland because SFIS opted out of athletics, and because Humetewa already lived in Cleveland’s district. He placed third at the Class 3A state meet in 2019.

Rio Rancho, with Cebastian Marquez and Tim Martinez, edged Cleveland at last week’s district meet. The Rams expect to be in the team mix, and also Oñate, Alamogordo and Clovis.

Individually, Jerrick Maldonado from Clovis, the 5A runner-up in 2019, might be both the physical favorite and sentimental favorite after what happened almost 18 months ago. He was mistakenly named the champion until video surfaced that showed he finished a close second. Maldonado came forward to surrender his first-place medal.

“He has many tools that make him hard to beat anywhere,” Cleveland coach Kenny Henry said.

The 4A race should be compelling, with the host Chargers, experienced Los Alamos and Hope Christian squaring off. Last weekend, the Huskies beat Academy at district, ending a 23-year run as district champs for the Chargers. Los Alamos is the defending state champ.

“The race for state will be the fourth man,” Academy coach Adam Kedge said. “The first fourth man in will win the state title (for his team).”

Individually, Rafael Sanchez of the Hilltoppers, future Brown runner Justin Hickey of the Chargers, and Eric Scharton and Rendon Kuykendall of the Huskies all could cross the line first Friday.

Zuni (3A) and Navajo Pine (1A/2A) also are defending state champion teams, but neither will have teams at state Friday. Justin Howey of Cottonwood Classical Prep is a runner to watch in 3A; he was state runner-up in 2019.

GIRLS: Leah Futey, the defending champion from Cleveland, and Eldorado’s Laurynn Sisneros (sixth at state in 2019) are expected to duel for the 5A individual title Saturday.

The Eagles, Rio Rancho and Alamogordo are among the team favorites.

In 4A, Kedge expects Academy and Los Alamos to battle it out; the Chargers are getting back one of their top runners, sophomore Katie Patton, on Friday for her first race of the year. She was third at the 2019 state competition. Her sister, Emma, a junior, and Los Alamos’ Norissa Valdez, the 2019 state champ, are also expected to be at the front of the pack.

Cottonwood Classical Prep is the defending 3A state champion, and the top four finishers from that team, Liza Cardinale, Sophia Lopez, Aubrey Lozoya and Ellie Merhege, are back with this spring’s team. Lopez, Lozoya and Cardinale all placed in the top 10 in 2019.

The Academy for Technology and the Classics (ATC) in Santa Fe is the defending 1A/2A state champ. The Rittmeyers, senior Maggie and sophomore Lily, were first and third, respectively, at state in November 2019 for ATC.

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