Valencia County will be well represented at Saturday’s New Mexico High School Cross Country Championships at Albuquerque Academy, but the path runners from Belen, Los Lunas and Valencia took to qualify was somewhat unexpected.
At the District 5-4A championship, Valencia senior Victor Ramirez, just 10 days removed from his final soccer match with the Jaguars, captured the boys’ individual title. Entering Eagle Stadium with a comfortable lead was, “Bliss. It was such a nice feeling,” Ramirez said. “Just hearing everyone cheer. My parents, my sister, the team. It was a great feeling.”
Ramirez finished the 5K course around the Belen High School campus in a time of 17:36, 15 second ahead of Joshua Robbins of St. Pius. The Sartans had nine of the top-12 runners to easily win the team title over Belen, Grants, Valencia and Highland.
BHS was led by Kyle Glodt’s fifth-place finish, followed by Nico Arriaga in 15th, while Joshua Jaramillo and Matias Padilla were also in the top 20.
With only five boys and three girls competing, VHS will not be sending a full team to the state meet but Martinez will have company with Francesca Otero, who finished ninth, and Haylee Purdy, who also qualified
The girls’ team competition was razor thin, with St. Pius edging Belen by one point. Finishing a narrow second may have been disappointing, but it was also impressive considering the Eagles fielded a youthful team and were without Lisette Sanchez, their most decorated runner.
Sanchez is sidelined with an injury and will likely miss the state championship.
“It’s been a different season,” is how Belen coach Fernando Sisneros described it. “We started out really strong. Unfortunately, at the midway point we began to have some injuries, and outside stuff has kind of affected the team a bit.”
Part of the BHS youth movement is eighth-grader Carlie Baca who was sixth in a time of 21:46 and was immediately followed by teammates Gabriella Jaramillo, a junior, and freshman Leiliani Gonzales. Belen had nine runners in the top 21.
Laila Martinez, of Grants, was the individual winner with a time of 20.16.
While it was no surprise that Los Lunas kept its winning streak alive under Larry Padilla, who has coached an LLHS district champion team for 32 straight years, it was a bit unusual how they accomplished it.
“In general, they did not run well,” Padilla said about his boys’ team, which captured District 5-5A easily over Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Rio Grande.
“I think every one of our guys ran slower than at our home meet,” Padilla said about the Oct. 14 competition held during an eclipse. “I guess we need to have an eclipse or something,” to have better times, Padilla joked.
LLHS freshman Isaac Gonzales crossed the finish line first in at 17:34, nearly 30 seconds ahead of Dominic Quintana of AHS.
The Tigers had five runners in the top 10, with James Kulcullen fourth, followed by Brady Garcia, Eneas Armijo and James Martinez, who joined the team late in the season.
On the girls’ side, Los Lunas was third behind AHS and Santa Fe, with Claire Kilcullen and Ainsley McKay the top Tigers in 10th and 11th place, respectively.
AHS eighth-grader Julisa Maes hit the tape first at 22:06.
Sol Romero, who had been the Tigers’ leading runner, was injured several weeks ago and is out for the season.
Padilla said Los Lunas traditionally peaks at district.
“We might just have to work a little harder” this week to get ready for the state meet.
Mike Powers spent more than 40 years as a television news and sports anchor, mostly in the Albuquerque market. He has won numerous awards including New Mexico Sportscaster of the Year. He covers a wide range of sports, including the Valencia County prep scene.