Fresh faces 'waiting for their time to shine' - Albuquerque Journal

Fresh faces ‘waiting for their time to shine’

Los Alamos boys coach Steven Montoya, center, and his regionally ranked boys Hilltoppers cross-country squad. (Courtesy of Blake Wood)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

No strangers to regional and national recognition, the Los Alamos boys cross-country team got its first recent taste of such heady accolades when the Hilltoppers were ranked 10th in the southwest region after a runner-up finish in the Joe Vigil Open in Alamosa, Colorado, several weeks ago.

“It’s a nice little feeling,” coach Steven Montoya said of the rankings, which includes the Four Corners states, as well as Nevada.

“Los Alamos has definitely had their time in the past of being nationally and regionally relevant,” he said. “But I would definitely say it had been a little while for the boys to get any recognition like that.”

What makes it particularly sweet is that Los Alamos is succeeding despite losing three of its top four finishers from the spring’s condensed state meet and the fourth, Ryan Aldaz, did not make his season debut until Saturday’s meet at Rio Rancho.

“This is a – I wouldn’t say a crop of new and fresh faces – it’s a group where many have just been waiting for their time to shine,” Montoya said.

What’s more, the Hilltoppers’ program is still recovering from a health-mandate decimation of the program that still sees its numbers at about half the usual complement.

“Last school year, we had a shell of our team,” Montoya. “We’re usually probably at about 40-50 boys in size and, last year, we were in the teens. We didn’t have very many boys out, due to the uncertainty and the running in masks, and not being in school.”

Nevertheless, this is where Montoya sees the program moving to in the future.

“One of the things I have preached at parent meetings is I want to be relevant,” he said. “That means, in the state of New Mexico, if we’re going to compete in a race, we should be in the conversation of winning it. Whenever we go to a regional race, Los Alamos should be mentioned as a contender, as somebody to watch for. I know we’re not at the national level, but I dream of that. That, someday, we are relevant at the national level.”

Senior Keith Bridge has stepped into the role as the team’s leader after coming off a disappointing 57-place finish in the state meet.

“He’s been with us his entire career, but he had an awful state meet. He had a bad day on the day,” Montoya said. “Right now, though, he has the fastest 5K of any class in any class. He’s running at a high level. He’s stepped up and taken the place of the valuable seniors who graduated.”

Seniors Morgan Schaller and St. Michael’s transfer Rowan Flores are vying for the next two spots in the lineup, while senior Reuben Goettee is getting his first crack at varsity, and freshman Michael Bane is opening some eyes and making a strong push.

Then there is Aldaz, and juniors Jack Ammerman and Beck Ellis,who also will figure into the mix.

“It’s a nice problem to have,” Montoya said. “It’s two-sided. It’s great to have 10 boys and they can interchange on varsity, but, at the end of the year, when I have to whittle it down to seven, that’s going to be a tough choice.”

As for the regional recognition, the athletes pretty much took it in stride, the coach said, although the training session following the announcement was one of the best of the year.

“It was a recovery run, so we didn’t do anything hard,” he said. “I saw them in groups running hard as the groups passed each other, giving each other high fives and saying ‘Good job.’ Afterwards, they were standing around and talking, enjoying each other’s company. It was a great day of them enjoying each other. They all came over and shook the coaches’ hands and thanked us. It was a good day with our team and it had nothing to do with how fast they ran.”

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