Carisma Lovato ran the final 1300 meters to the Great Southwest steeplechase title unaccompanied. Photos by Alan Versaw.
For a state without much water, New Mexico's steeplechasers took to the water like fish. When all was said and done, the state with exactly two steeplechase water pits, and no opportunity for aspiring high school steeplechasers to use those pits for practice, had claimed both steeplechase crowns.
The early stages of the girls steeple were led, and convincingly so, by Gabryelle Thompson of Texas. Thompson's run at the front, however, come to an early demise when she became the first of the field to take a serious plunge at the water jump.
Seizing the opportunity, Carisma Lovato surged into the lead and was never heard from again. Lovato continued to build her lead on every lap, eventually amassing a margin of 43 seconds on second place, looking every bit the established veteran. Lovato's winning time was 7:33.09.
Second and third places also had a familiar sound for the New Mexico crowd gathered. For yet one more time in their high school careers, Cassey and Crissey Amberg finished consecutively, this time with Cassey edging Crissey by mere hundredths of a second.
Going into this event, nobody was anticipating a 1-2-3 sweep from New Mexico, but that was how it ended nevertheless.
The story was every bit as good on the boys side. Somehow, Alex Heffelfinger got into the race without a New Mexico singlet. The singlet he was wearing looked suspiciously like a Utah singlet, which would be a great strategy considering that Utah figured to dominate the event, but it was probably not intentional. And the fact that Heffelfinger had his bib number pineed over the imprinting on the front would tend to suggest that the meet ran out of New Mexico singlets and gave Heffelfinger the next best thing for this event.
In any case, the singlet worn by Heffelfinger created no small amount of confusion during the race. The bib number of the race leader (or, sometimes, second place runner) said Alex Heffelfinger of New Mexico, but the singlet was most definitely navy blue and not the familiar red-on-yellow of New Mexico.
And, stubbornly, Heffelfinger refused to cede anything to the dwindling crew at the front. On the final pass over the water jump, Heffelfinger (photo, above) had built a lead of one or two strides over Utah's Braedin Butler and Heffelfinger managed to extend that lead to three seconds in the remaining 120 meters to the finish line, finishing in 6:19.04. And so the New Mexico sweep of the steeplechase titles was completed.
Also finishing among the medals for New Mexico on Friday were Carly Bonwell, sixth in the girls decathlon, a third and a fifth in the girls 4x800, a sixth in the boys 4x200, and a fifth in the boys 4x800. Simon Bailey and Kyra Mohns missed the medals by a single place each in the boys decathlon and girls heptathlon.