Prep cross country resumes, not long after it left off - Albuquerque Journal

Prep cross country resumes, not long after it left off

Hope Christian’s Rendon Kuykendall (132) starts to take the lead during his eventual Class 4A state championship win in March. He is a favorite to repeat in November. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

Barely five months after the last season ended, the next high school cross country season is beginning.

And in a high profile way.

Saturday morning’s Cleveland Invitational (varsity boys 8 a.m., varsity girls 8:30) has drawn a strong field of 30 schools, including most of the metro-area powerhouse teams and individuals (minus Cottonwood Classical Prep), plus the Los Alamos boys and girls.

As for what to watch this season:

CLASS 5A: Cleveland’s boys earned a narrow team victory over Rio Rancho at the spring state meet, and both should be in the mix again in the fall, along with a deep and experienced Volcano Vista squad.

Senior Aiden Davis, who didn’t compete as a junior for the Hawks, is sure to be one of the contenders for an individual title in November, when the state meet returns to Albuquerque Academy.

Volcano Vista also has depth with the likes of senior Lucas Kedge and junior Stoney Cutchen.

“This group is a special group of boys,” Hawks coach Elena Schrader said. “They definitely stand a good chance.”

Other individuals on the short list of possible state champions include senior Dawson Gunn from Rio Rancho and Celso Garcia from Alamogordo, plus Cody Toya of Cleveland — which should have a good chance to win a team trophy this season.

Rio Rancho’s girls won state in the spring in a tight three-way battle with Eldorado and Alamogordo, and the Rams have a large portion of that team returning, led by junior Violet Francisco and senior Lorynn Trujillo. Both were all-state last season.

Other teams expected to make noise include Alamogordo, Cleveland and Albuquerque High, which is led by junior Ava Stratton. She finished fifth at state in March. Junior Ellary Battle from Alamogordo could also be a force in November, and junior Leah Futey from Cleveland was the state runner-up in March and certainly one of the elite 5A runners.

Cleveland’s Leah Futey won a state title in 2019 (shown here), finished runner-up this past spring and is expected to contend for another cross country championship this season. (Roberto E. Rosales/Journal)

CLASS 4A: There is fairly unanimous consensus that Los Alamos’ boys and girls are primed as the favorites to win blue trophies in November.

Hope Christian won the boys 4A title in the spring, but aside from the defending state individual champion, junior Rendon Kuykendall — who is about as prohibitive a favorite as any boy or girl in any classification this fall — the Huskies are largely rebuilding.

“He’s progressing very well,” Hope coach Shane Cleveland said of Kuykendall, adding that his runner’s workouts “are starting to project better than anyone I’ve ever seen.”

Traditional power Albuquerque Academy’s top returner is senior Joaquin Deprez, who just committed to Dartmouth.

Los Alamos’ girls appear loaded and its spring roster returns substantially intact, including the 4A state champ, senior Norissa Valdez.

Academy coach Adam Kedge expects Los Alamos to draw national attention with its girls team this season. His own Chargers have a potent sister tandem of their own in Emma and Katie Patton. Emma, the state runner-up to Valdez in the spring, is a senior. Katie is a junior.

St. Pius’ girls were third at state in March, behind Los Alamos and Academy. Junior Trista Cordova was top-10 at state and is expected to spearhead the Sartans’ squad.

CLASS 3A: Cottonwood Classical Prep was dominant as it swept the boys and girls 3A team titles in late March, and the Coyotes ought to be a serious contender to repeat in November.

One of the more interesting developments in the offseason was this: last year’s girls 3A state champ, CCP’s Alyx Mastor, has left the country. She will complete high school in Thailand, CCP coach Shay Todaro said.

However, the Coyotes have three runners from the top seven at the March state meet returning in senior Aubrey Lozoya, junior Sophia Lopez and sophomore Ellie Merhege.

For the CCP boys, defending state champ Justin Howey has graduated, but two others from the top 10 at the most recent state meet, juniors Carter Swanson and Alex Bergevin, both return.

The unknown this season, Todaro said, is not having seen some of the state’s top cross country programs in the spring, schools like Zuni, Santa Fe Indian and Navajo Prep.

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