Los Alamos is one of several of last year's state champion girls teams that appear to be well-positioned once again this year.
Cross country season is still a ways off. Nothing starts for real until September 14, and we aren't even rock-solid certain about that date. But, it's the best we have to go on for now.
Expect lots of the unexpected this fall. In addition to all the interesting twists and turns an abbreviated and postponed schedule might bring, we have a whole lot of teams who've gone almost an entire year without showing their hands. There are bound to be some surprises that show up once the season opens.
Four teams that shouldn't be too full of surprises, though, should be last year's state champions. It's more or less a given that these teams will be, minimally, among the most competitive in the state once again.
So, as we creep back into cross country preview material, it's natural to start with last year's champions, look at what they bring back, and make some tentative projections for what the fall of 2020 holds for them based on what we're pretty sure we do know.
So, with that, we launch into a discussion of last year's state champions. We'll start with the smallest schools and work our way up here.
ATC engineered a relatively narrow 24-35 win over Pecos at last year's state meet. The win, however, was more telling that the 11 points would suggest. ATC won at four of five scoring positions, and barely lost the fifth. The rest of the field was in arrears by a massive margin. It was, by all reasonable accounts, a two-team race.
Maggie Rittmeyer ran away from the field for the individual title. We don't know exactly what 8th graders/freshmen are coming up, but it's fair to say that Rittmeyer will enter this coming season as a prohibitive favorite to repeat as the individual champion. And that starts ATC out in a great position.
The good news for ATC isn't as much Maggie Rittmeyer, though, as it is the other four of last year's scoring five all figure to be back. There's Lily Rittmeyer, Kamryn Hoehne, Noelani Van Loon, and Kate Ferguson. And, if any of those five stumble along the way, there's Josette Gurule and Maiah Trujillo also back. And Coach Tim Host is back as well!
It's hard to find the soft underbelly of the monster here. To be fair, Pecos should be returning their state seven as well this fall. But, ATC is not easy team to close the gap on. If we had just completed a track season, there may be some progression to talk about, but most of March, plus all of April and May, is all just a blank slate.
It's hard to pencil in any other team than ATC as the favorite for this fall. Perhaps, though, if you know of something special happening at Pecos, you might feel otherwise inclined.
Cottonwood Classical has been on a steady rise, at least in terms of cross country, since the inception of the school a few years back. It didn't come as a huge surprise that the Coyotes won it all last fall. Zuni and Laguna-Acoma were within shouting distance, but the race belonged to CCP.
The Coyotes' strength wasn't in a single, dominant runner, but in the 5-7-9 finish of freshman Sophia Lopez, sophomore Aubrey Lozoya, and junior Liza Cardinale. Those three put the Coyotes in a commanding position that they would not relinquish. Closing out the scoring were 8th grader Ellie Merhege and freshman Isabella Cabral. CCP had five across before anyone else had three across.
The top three was, at least to a degree, interchangeable throughout the course of the season. There was not a fixed order of finish between the three, which most coaches would count as a good thing.
Lauren Tracey, a junior last year, also returns from the state team.
Given that the scoring five is all back and nobody was all that close last year, Cottonwood Classical looks like a solid favorite to repeat this year. Not a lock, of course, but a solid favorite even so. That said, the Coyotes could benefit from some solid development at the #6 and #7 positions. Right now, this team could be vulnerable if one of the top five takes an injury.
The Hilltoppers pretty much ran the table last fall. They even went outside the borders of New Mexico and flexed their muscles a little. Los Alamos has a long history as a top cross country around these parts and last year merely extended the legacy.
Albuquerque Academy kept it sort-of close, but not-really-that close.
So, what do the Hilltoppers bring to the table this year?
And, this team is very well coached. Los Alamos doesn't have much history of runners dropping off in their junior and senior seasons. It happens, but it's not a recurring theme in this program.
Mabel Pyle and Hannah Gartz, the 6 and 7 from last year, are back as well. And, there are always young Hilltoppers in the pipeline. Delaney Ulrich might be a good one to start considering on that front. Hailey McDowell, who was just outside the state seven last fall, is another to consider.
In short, this team is deep and talented. It's going to take a bigger jousting spear than anyone had last year to knock this team out of the saddle.
We can expect the Eagles to be competitive again this fall, but one thing Eldorado will have to deal with that the other state champions won't is some serious losses to graduation. Jasmine Turtle-Morales and Madeleine Velasquez, the 1 and 3 runners from state last fall, have both departed the arena of high school competition.
One troubling fact for Eldorado, though, is that last year's team didn't bring a lot of depth to the table. The Eagles were very good up front, but not very deep. With graduations taking places, the paucity of depth now has to be addressed.
Ellie Suo-Anttila, a freshman last year, is one likely candidate to step up into the gap left by the graduations of Turtle-Morales and Velasquez. The Eagles figure to be in play for another title this fall, but they may not be yours odds-on favorite for that. A couple of early season meets should tell us a lot about this team.