Mike Walker may have made the most important single move in all ten state meet races when he caught and passed Albuquerque Academy's Kevin Wyss at the finish line. Photo by Alan Versaw.
There was nothing foreboding about the day to warn us. It was a gorgeous November morning under the brilliant New Mexico sunshine. No storm clouds lurking on the horizon, no foul winds blowing in from points unknown, and no banks of fog to obscure the view of what lay ahead. Los Alamos and Albuquerque Academy set up their team tents in the usual places.
Almost everyone lining up along the edge of the course to watch this race shared a common thought, "I wonder how much Albuquerque Academy will win by?" It's not that AA hadn't tasted defeat this season, it was that when they had, they were running short-handed. There was nothing short-handed about the seven that Coach Adam Kedge sent to the starting line on Saturday. The Chargers were leaving nothing to chance at the most important meet of the season.
The race wasn't very old, however, before puzzling scenarios began to raise their head. Gallup's Alexander Taylor shot out to huge early lead while the pre-race favorites hung back in a more conservatively-paced pack.
At about three-quarters of a mile, Coach Kedge pondered the situation and worried aloud about the very conservative start his boys had taken in the race.
By the time the field wrapped back around for their second pass by the football field, Belen's Aaron Valenzuela had taken over the lead. The packs of red and green still hung back. Although Coach Kedge may have detected something amiss earlier, the midway point of the race revealed to the less keenly attuned among us that the Charger engine wasn't firing on all cylinders.
This is a team that, all season long, has had the confidence to move up, take over the race, and punish the field from the front. This time, the Chargers had the look of the team being punished than the team doing the punishing.
The presence of opporunity wasn't lost on Los Alamos coach Kathy Hipwood, "In our team meeting the night before, we told them that it wasn’t going to be easy and would likely take some good fortune as well, but we wanted them to be ready to take advantage of it should that fortune present itself."
And it was midway through the race that we started to see the green wave surging toward the front of the field. A thought had awoken in the Los Alamos consciousness, a thought that would both gain and give strength as the race continued to develop.
Although he was not in a position to see what was happening behind him, Los Alamos's Colin Hemez set things in motion. After a very patient start, Hemez moved up, first challenging, then overtaking Belen's Valenzuela. Academy's Kyle Carrozza never responded with a countering move of his own. Hemez's move caught Coach Hipwood's attention as well, "Colin showed tremendous composure, but as he began to make his way towards the front, we felt that one piece of the puzzle was falling into place. When it was still a very tight race on the field, we knew it was a possibility."
Hemez went on to win in 15:54, the best time the day in any classification.
Whether or not the fully-formed thought of winning as a team had reached the conscious level for the six Hilltoppers running behind Hemez, their races gave evidence of an irresistable urge to move up. And move up they did.
Mike Walker, Gus Saeger, Cameron Staples, and Forrest White were picking off runners from other teams like frogs pick off unsuspecting flies. A few of those runners wore the unmistakeable red and black of Albuquerque Academy.
But, it would still all come down to a few furious charges in the final 200 meters of the race. In those last meters of the race, Los Alamos ran like a team with everything to gain and nothing to lose. Every point counted and some critical late exchanges of places included Mike Walker passing Kevin Wyss and Forrest White moving up ten places in the last mile of the race. These were the kind of key elements of which this championship was engineered.
In the end, every point proved critical as Los Alamos edged Albuquerque Academy, 52 to 54. For Los Alamos, it would be a third-consecutive state title, marking an exceptional run for the Hilltoppers against their rivals in red.
Piedra Vista, a team that has improved steadily over the recent years, ran to third with 106 points behind the top-ten finishes of Timberlin Henderson and Harrison Fleming.