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Prep track & field: Burnett shines at Albuquerque Invitational

One by one, they grabbed their pole, measured their steps down the runway, then planted and soared. Thirteen of them in all in the Albuquerque Invitational Track & FIeld Meet at Nusenda Community Stadium.

When these 13 had finished, Rio Rancho’s Jason Boettcher had cleared 12 feet, 3 inches, the best mark of anyone.

The trouble for Boettcher, and his cohorts, is that there were 14 competitors, and the dominance of No. 14 is not in dispute.

By the time Del Norte’s Nathan Burnett was ready to vault for the first time, the other 13 boys in his event were already finished.

Burnett is so proficient in this event that his starting height is 13-3.

“Cakewalk,” he said.

Eventually, he had cleared 14-6, a season personal best as the Knights’ senior easily won his event.

“It’s difficult,” Burnett said of his event, “because everyone goes out before I come in.”

Burnett wasn’t terribly impressed Friday, as he chases more important things this spring, such as wins at the upcoming Marilyn Sepulveda all-star meet, plus the Harper meet at Albuquerque Academy and the metro championships. Those goals are in addition to trying to set the Class 5A state record, which belongs to ex-Academy stud Curtis Beach at 15-3.

“I don’t care about winning this (meet),” he said.

His older brother, Parker, got him interested in the pole vault, when Parker was a senior and Nathan was a Del Norte freshman.

“And as soon as I did it,” he said, “I knew I was gonna love it. I feel like it’s my best event, because I love the adrenaline rush.”

Burnett was one of 10 event winners on a day that was cool but, thankfully, largely devoid of wind. Eight field finals and the 3,200-meter finals were contested Friday afternoon and Friday night. Most of the remaining six field finals begin at 8:45 this morning, with the running finals at 9 a.m.

If Burnett was the most expected winner Friday, then Cibola junior Juanita Johnson might have been the least expected.

She had run the 3,200 only once in her life before Friday. But she drafted the race leader, Rio Rancho’s Reina Paredes, for over 7½ laps, before kicking in the final 200 meters and overtaking Paredes with a time of 11 minutes, 49.80 seconds. Paredes was 3½ seconds behind.

“I decided to stay behind her and whatever happens, happens,” said Johnson, adding that she only ran the 3,200 at the urging of her coaches, who said her scholarship chances as a distance runner would improve if she added this race as a regular feature. “The last lap … I tried to do it as late as possible. (If she) had taken it out, I (wouldn’t have) followed. It’s her race, not mine.”

Volcano Vista’s Jericho Cleveland won the boys’ 3,200, a somewhat watered-down race since two of his top local rivals, Eldorado’s Connor Laktasic and Rio Rancho’s Devin Paredes, sat this one out. In fact, he considered his time of 9 minutes, 54.10 seconds, not nearly as impressive as the 9:42 he ran last month in Chandler, Ariz., where he placed in the top 15 against much tougher competition.

Long jump winners Friday were Joaquin Montaño of Albuquerque High (in one of the day’s closest events) and Bridgette Rodgers of Sandia.

Keegan McKeown of Eldorado and Carolina Alba of Volcano Vista took the shot put; McKeown was a close winner over Sandia’s Cortez Largo.

In the javelin, it was Sandia’s Mariah Simplicio and Eldorado’s Bryce Simpson. Destiny Williams of Atrisco Heritage claimed the girls high jump, narrowly over Volcano’s Mikayla Miller.

Simplicio defended her 2015 title, and won by nearly 11 feet. Williams also went back-to-back in the high jump.

Rio Rancho’s girls and Eldorado’s boys have the first-day team lead. The top three finishers in each final, along with the top five teams, can be found on page D2.