Los Lunas High School
The cross country program at Los Lunas High School has been consistent during the 31 years that Larry Padilla has been head coach — consistently good.
In almost every year under Padilla, the Tigers have won a district title, either girls or boys or both.
The Tigers expect to do it again, with the boys’ team deeper and more experienced than the girls’ squad, which features only one varsity runner returning. At last years’ district meet, only five girls were on the team.
“COVID kind of scared kids away, wearing masks while running …” Padilla said.
This year, there is a noticeable increase with 12 girls to start practice.
Senior captain Kiyah Padilla, no relation to the coach, has been the Tigers’ top runner for three years. Padilla is striving for a personal record time and reaching the state championship.
Padilla, who was the top Tiger finisher in the recent scrimmage, is thrilled to have more teammates to train with.
“I think the younger girls are going to be a help to us,” Padilla said. “It’ll be good for us having new people.”
Some of the “new” people the coach expects to strengthen the team include freshman Serena Jaramillo and foreign exchange student Marie DeNys, of Belgium, a senior who is a newcomer to cross country.
The Tiger boys are a good bet to successfully defend their district title, thanks to experience at the top of the roster. Home-schooled Micah Sparks is the top returning runner, finishing first in the Los Lunas scrimmage. He’ll be pushed by junior Eneas Armijo, a state USA track champion as a 12 year old, and junior Logan Martin who has been on the team since eighth grade.
Senior Austin Watts is a team leader, coming off his first full year in cross country. Watts believes good, old fashioned sweat is what will separate the Tigers from the pack.
“I want everybody to work as hard as they can this year,” Watts said. “It’s about the entire team being a system in every single race. Everybody’s run counts.”
Coach Padilla says believing in the kids is only part of his job.
“More importantly, we have to get them to believe in themselves and what they can do.”
Los Lunas opens the season Saturday, Sept. 3, in the Jemez Valley Invitational.
Valencia High School
The goal for Valencia High School cross country is simple: Reestablish the program.
“The No. 1 priority right now is to build our numbers,” said fourth-year head coach James Perez.
The boys’ team does not have “competing” numbers yet, with only one athlete entered in the Los Lunas scrimmage last week; however,the girls are getting a boost from the Jaguar soccer program. About 10 girls soccer players will also run for the cross country team when they can.
Coach Perez has had to overcome the pandemic as well as a certain mindset.
“In other sports, running is used as a punishment. In our sport, that’s what we do for fun,” Perez said.
With that in mind, Perez will attempt to make the Jaguar program more visible at Valencia Middle School, “trying to convince them to come out, that running is OK.”
Colton Plant thinks running is more than just OK. The senior has been helping to carry the Jaguar banner for five years. Plant qualified for the state championship as an eighth-grader, but hasn’t been back since.
“I’ve been very close, missing out by one and two places,” Plant said. “It’s been a killer.”
Now he’s back for one more try.
“I want to be able to push myself and improve throughout the season. Making it to state has been a goal since I started,” Plant said.
Another goal for Plant before he picks up that diploma is to help revive the VHS cross country program by helping coach Perez reach out to kids at the high school and middle school.
“It’s more difficult without numbers,” Plant said, referring to training.
More teammates “makes it a better experience.”
While distance running is considered a lonely sport, at least the Valencia campus offers plenty to look at while hitting the trails.
“It’s a beautiful area to coach cross country,” Perez said. “The terrain, the school, the layout is really conducive” to a wonderful running experience.
The Jaguars first meet is Friday, Sept. 2, at St. Pius.
Belen High School
Both the boys and girls cross country programs at Belen High School are excited about this season, but for different reasons.
The Eagle boys have a deep roster, with a number of fine runners bunched closely together. The Belen girls are inexperienced overall but returns as one of the top competitors in the state.
Fourth year head coach Fernando Sisneros says both boys and girls will be very competitive and both will be seeking district team championships.
“We’re obviously shooting for first place and I believe we can do that,” Sisneros said. “Last year, we were on the cusp — second place for both boys and girls teams.”
Sisneros said the boys have a large team lead by junior Matias Padilla.
“He’s constantly trying to better himself every day at practice, at every meet, looking to make himself better,” Sisneros said.
The Eagle boys have mostly juniors on the squad with a couple of sophomores and freshmen, who are new to the sport.
“We’re pretty strong,” Padilla said. “Most of us are grouped together. We’re pretty fast, too.”
The girls’ team is led by sophomore Lisette Sanchez, who finished fourth during the spring track season in the 3200 meters, just 100th of a second off the podium.
The coach calls Sanchez, the district cross-country runner-up a year ago, “a fierce competitor.”
Sanchez, who dominated the competition in the Los Lunas scrimmage, says she is driving herself everyday to be a state champion. Her mindset?
“You can’t give up, can’t lose form, pushing as hard as you can,” Sanchez said.
Coach Sisneros believes Sanchez will be district champion and should be in the mix to win the Class 4A State title. The rest of the girls’ team is very young, without any seniors. Sisneros expects junior Chauncy Cordova will be a strong team leader.
One thing is for sure: BHS runners love cross country.
“It’s better than track,” Padilla said, joking “You get to see the scenery and stuff.”
As for Sanchez, she first starting running in elementary school, where, “we would run a mile and I would beat everybody.” Not much has changed.
The Eagles’ first meet is Saturday, Sept. 3, at the Jemez Valley Invitational.
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.