Cleveland Dominates Own Relays Meet


New Mexico’s track & field season is in full throttle, after daylight savings finally brought a precious extra hour of sunlight for hectic practices, the track & field season has shifted from preparatory phase into the competitive phase. For most teams, their debuts have signaled a general understanding of their placing amongst the district and state levels of competition.  It has also signaled a call to action for every team to up the ante and prepare for an ultra-competitive April, with several high stakes track meets coming down the tracks like a speeding freight train.
After a break from the week’s windy and cloudy weather, the greater Albuquerque Metro reconvened at Sue Cleveland High School for the Cleveland Storm Relays. This meet is a slightly different affair, because every event is a relay, meaning that even field, hurdles, and distance races are added up to create a sum. The glaring omission from the meet is the 1600m Medley Relay, but the new racing configurations created enough intrigue to present a progressive take on the traditional NM track meet.
The relay meet tested the depth of every team, and the tight schedule forced many over-achieving athletes to participate in three (and maybe four) relay events. The Cleveland Storm Relays were not for the faint of heart. The meet’s participants included Albuquerque Academy, Albuquerque High, La Cueva, Volcano Vista, West Mesa, Los Alamos, Pojoaque, Rio Rancho, and Sue Cleveland.
Although the meet was not officially scored, overall team standards favored the Cleveland Storm, as they once again swept team titles and showcased tremendous depth across events. On the boys side, Cleveland looked particularly impressive by sweeping the traditional relay events. Their field events were bolstered by several standout performances, and their team looks especially formidable at this early juncture in the season. The girls team battle saw a Cleveland team very comfortable on their home turf, and much more polished than the La Cueva squad. It is worth noting that the absence of key La Cueva runners definitely hurt their team depth.
Quick Highlights:
Shot Put:
Girls – Another great duel between Akuadasuo Ezenyilimba (La Cueva) & Alex Winebark (Cleveland). The tension was high throughout the flights, as fellow coaches dissected the techniques for the state’s preeminent throwers. The talk was about half-spins, full spins, and pops, and each girl put on a show. Winebark tossed the wining heave, with a distance of 34’ 11.75”, with Ezenyilimba in second with a throw of 34’ 5”.
Boys – Mike Budick (Volcano Vista) laid waste to the field with a crushing throw of 172’ 0”, which was a 19’ improvement from two weeks ago. Following close behind was Brandon Leitch (Cleveland), who also qualified with a heave of 165’ 5”. Compared to earlier March performances, both Budick and Leitch improved their throws by distances of more than ten feet.
4x400m Relay:
Girls – Traditional girls powers Cleveland & La Cueva squared off and made it extremely close through two legs, as Carly Browning (La Cueva) ran 59.5 to push La Cueva into the early lead. As the action heated up, Cleveland’s Larimar Rodriguez and Elicia Gallegos hammered home impressive 3rd & 4th legs to lead their relay to a scorching 4:00.05 finish. La Cueva (2nd – 4:10.47), Volcano Vista (3rd – 4:12.55), and Pojoaque (4th – 4:14.22) each bettered their respective state qualifying standards.
Boys – Cleveland ran away with this one, with versatile anchor Nathan Munoz powering home to a winning time of 3:21.79. Volcano Vista (2nd – 3:25.58), La Cueva (3rd – 3:26.58), and ABQ Academy (4th – 3:29.75) each finished with state qualifying marks.
High Jump:
Boys – Parker Jones (Cleveland) measured his approach perfectly, and left the runway en route to clearing a winning height of 6’ 2”. Two jumpers from ABQ Academy, Noah Weig-Pickering (2nd – 6’0”), and Parker Hibbit (3rd – 6’0”) also earn state qualifying marks for their efforts, and established Academy’s field crew as a force to be reckoned with.
Boys – Cleveland’s Luis Martinez made his season debut, went straight to the front with a scorching 62-second opening lap. A pack of all-state runners, each brave souls, were on his heels and chasing hard. After a 4:40 opening mile for Martinez, the pace noticeably slowed as he recharged for a blistering final sprint. Martinez sprinted home to win in 9:36.90, and withstood a valiant closing effort from Nick Hill (Los Alamos).
300m Hurdles:
Girls - Once again, Laura Wendelberger (Los Alamos) squared off against Stephanie Brener (La Cueva). Brener led early, but Wendelberger passed on the sixth hurdle and pulled away over the final 50 meters. Later, in the slowest heat, Cassie Boren (La Cueva) blitzed the field and bettered the state qualifying mark of her teammate. In the final standings, Wendelberger (1st - 46.87), Boren (2nd - 47.62), and Brener (3rd - 47.86), each qualified for state.
Girls – This one featured an early season rematch of last year’s top 5A 1600m finishers, Malia Gonzales (Cleveland) and Hattie Schunk (La Cueva). The two squared off to renew their rivalry. Shunck controlled early, setting the pace through 800m in with Gonzales stalking amid a pack. By the 1200m mark, Gonzales asserted herself and charged on Shunck’s heels, with every intent of sprinting the final lap. However, Schunk swiftly accelerated and ran her fastest lap to finish in 5:27.64. Gonzales was passed late by teammate Natalie Medina, as Medina (2nd – 5:32.98) and Gonzales (3rd - 5:33.98).
Boys – among the assembled field of all state runners, Luis Martinez quickly asserted the pecking order for elite distance talent. Sean Reardon (Los Alamos) has been an early season 4A titan, but Martinez easily outran Reardon to a winning time of 4:20.94, with Reardon second in 4:29.17. Both runners notched state qualifying times.
Pole Vault:
Boys – Connor Schmidt (Academy) quickly blazed through his approach and his take-off was another notch above his competitions. Schmidt’s extension was solid, and he cleared 13’1” to win the event. David Plumley (La Cueva, 2nd - 12’0”) and Jason Atencio (Hope Christian, 3rd – 12’0”) finished with state qualifying marks.
4x100m Relay: 
Girls – When discussing true sprint relays, the simple solution is to get the stick around the track. Cleveland (1st – 49.44) & Los Alamos (2nd – 50.48) did exactly that, and were rewarded with state qualifying performances. La Cueva fumbled on the final leg, but rebounded to finish 3rd and just shy of qualifying.
Boys - Cleveland & La Cueva were in a close battle until the final leg, when Tyler Chavez (Cleveland) accelerated smoothly and pulled away from Mike Rose (La Cueva), Rose starined to keep up, but pulled a hamstring and hopped through the finish line. Volcano Vista & Los Alamos passed La Cueva late, but only Clevland secured a state qualifying mark.