Los Alamos did its thing. So did Rendon Kuykendall and Steven West.
There were dominant victories and razor-thin victories among the eight races Saturday at the state cross country meet on an exceptionally warm day (by November standards) at Albuquerque Academy.
Volcano Vista enjoyed the best day in its history, sweeping the Class 5A team titles. Although, ultimately, it was Los Alamos in 4A who put in the two most remarkable race performances.
CLASS 5A: Steven West of Sandia was 5A’s best and most consistent runner this fall, so it was fitting that he closed the season with a victory.
West’s winning time was 16 minutes, 00.16 seconds, the third fastest overall time of the day. He beat Rio Rancho’s Dawson Gunn by 13 seconds. West went directly to the front of the pack at the gun and maintained that lead throughout the 3.1-mile (5-kilometer) course.
“That was the plan,” West said. “I knew Dawson was within striking distance, and he’s got a better kick than me, so I knew I had to be at least 15 meters ahead coming into the (Richard Harper Memorial) Stadium.”
West’s cushion was a little bit more than that, probably closer to 25 meters. And this win ended a season in which West hovered near the front in every race he entered.
“Super, super satisfying,” West said. “It was awesome.”
— VOLCANO VISTA TRACK & FIELD (@VVHSTF) November 6, 2021
The Hawks won the pre-state Extravaganza on this course three weeks ago, and they were even stronger at the state meet.
Volcano Vista (59 points) was part of a 1-2-3 sweep of District 1-5A schools, with Rio Rancho (93) and Cleveland (98) also earning boys trophies.
Senior Aiden Davis led Volcano Vista, in fourth place overall.
“Our boys, who came in ranked pretty high at the beginning of the season, delivered,” Hawks coach Elena Schrader said. “And our girls, they just kept following the progression. They came in unranked, but finished up strong.”
Freshman Carysa Marquez, who had a terrific season for Volcano Vista, led her championship team in sixth place Saturday. Senior Angela Korte was just outside the top 10 (top 10 are all-state), in 11th place.
Although Albuquerque High’s girls didn’t win a trophy, the Bulldogs went 2-3 individually with freshman Dani Figueroa, the metro champ, in second, and Ava Stratton in third. Leah Futey of Cleveland was fourth. Figueroa finished 27 seconds behind first-place Ellary Battle of Alamogordo.
CLASS 4A: Los Alamos’ boys and girls both blazed around the Academy campus as they capped their seasons the way everyone envisioned, with blue trophies.
Impressively, all seven Hilltopper boys finished in the top 15, and the five who scored gave them 24 points. The host Chargers were well back in second (87).
“My coach likes to say, the strength of the wolf is the pack, and the strength of the pack is the wolf,” said Keith Bridge, the boys’ state runner-up. “It means, team comes first.”
The girls’ standings were a bit more compact, with Los Alamos winning 28-49 over host Academy.
Hope Christian junior Kuykendall repeated as state champion, winning in 15:24.90, exactly 17 seconds in front of Bridge in their first head-to-head meeting of the fall season. They were the only two boys to break the 16-minute barrier.
“Going into the season, I knew it would take a lot to beat him,” Bridge said with a smile. “If not, I knew I would get a frickin’ glorious second-place finish.”
Kuykendall’s winning time was a bit slower than his time in the spring season, but the fall course is slightly longer.
“I’m not too happy with the time, honestly,” he said. “But I know I’m really fit, the fittest I’ve ever been, and a win’s a win.”
Ryan Aldaz and Morgan Schaller of Los Alamos finished right behind Bridge.
The young team from Hope Christian, the defending state champion, was third.
Delaney Ulrich and Kelly Wetteland of Los Alamos were in a dead heat with 50 meters to go in the girls 4A race; it was Ulrich who managed to summon the energy for a late kick to win by almost exactly one second (18:56.33/18:57.34).
“We had been together the whole race,” said Ulrich, a sophomore. “We were really working together. I kind of picked it up with half a mile to go and she went with me … it was just a battle to the end. It was fun.”
The Hilltoppers had three of the top five; Academy sisters Emma and Katie Patton were third and sixth, respectively, as the Chargers finished as runners-up.
CLASS 3A: As enthralling as the Ulrich/Wetteland finish was in 4A girls, it was not the most exciting finish of the day.
That honor went to Melvin Scott Jr. of Tohatchi, who overtook Kameron Eustace of Zuni in the final meters and won dramatically, by three-hundreths of a second.
Scott’s time was 16:35.54, with Eustace crossing in 16:35.57.
The Thunderbirds, however, had the better of the Cougars in the team standings. Zuni’s 32 points were 13 lower than Tohatchi, and Cottonwood Classical Prep (111) was third.
The CCP girls, however, did win state, scoring 54 points. Senior Aubrey Lozoya finished second behind the runaway individual winner, freshman Raylee Hunt of St. Michael’s. Hunt won by a whopping 64 seconds, and about 300 meters. Hunt’s time was 19:12.14; Lozoya’s was 20:14.11.
“I was like, man, what did she eat?” Lozoya said with a laugh.
“Oatmeal, with bananas,” Hunt said.
“My main goal was to lead out from the start, and see if I could hold it,” said Hunt, who was runner-up as an eighth-grader in the spring state meet. “It was really hot and Aubrey was pushing me.”
CCP repeated as girls team champion as a pre-race favorite, which was infinitely satisfying for the Coyotes.
“I’m super proud of my team,” Lozoya said. “We worked so hard for this. This morning, I was thinking, let’s just have fun, and let’s not overthink.”
Santa Fe Prep (100) was second behind CCP’s girls; Sandia Prep’s Sidney Harenberg was third individually.
CLASS 1A-2A: The lead was so large for Peñasco’s Gilbert Valdez when he entered the Academy stadium for the finish that he had a quick minute to scan the crowd.
“I was on the track, and I was looking for my parents,” he said, “because it means as much to them as it does to me.”
The Panther senior dominated on Saturday, finishing in 16:00.88. It was another 47 seconds before runner-up Max Preslar of Cloudcroft crossed.
“I’ve been racing Max since we were both in the eighth grade,” Valdez said. “I knew it would be fast and intense early on, and I wanted to stay patient.”
Which he did for the first half of the race, with Preslar close behind. Midway through, Valdez kicked and off he went. His time was 64 seconds faster than when he won state on what was basically this same course in the spring season state meet in late March.
Pecos’ boys — with Elijah Lujan, Aidan Holton and Antonio Garcia running in places 6-8 — scored 50 points for the team victory. Albuquerque’s Oak Grove Classical Academy, in its first season with a full boys squad, picked up the school’s first-ever sports trophy, finishing second with 105 points.
The girls team finish was the closest of the day in any class, with Peñasco’s 81 points just in front of Academy for Technology and the Classics (83) and third-place Gateway Christian (85).
Josette Gurule of ATC was the individual champion, winning in 20:33.82, nine seconds ahead of Emily Garcia of Rehoboth.