Kameron Eustace was part of a parade of early Zuni finishers last year. He'll have a chance to be part of that again this year.
Last week, we took a look at last year's girls state cross country team champions. This week, the boys get their turn having the same spotlight shone on them.
There are no guarantees this year will be like last year, and perhaps especially so with the mask rule for competitors. Still, the first look we want to take when evaluating chances for this year's state title is at the teams that won it all last year. Who do they bring back? Who have they lost? That's what this article is all about.
We'll start with the smallest classification (2A Boys) and work our way up.
The Warriors have a long history as one of the better small-school teams in New Mexico cross country. They don't have a long list of state titles to show for it, but they have consistently been among the better teams. Last year, they won a state title--convincingly.
It won't be easy to repeat this year, however. Three of the Warriors' top four finishers at state--Galvin Curley, Michael Marshall, and Dominique Clichee--have used up their high school eligibility. Not only were these three three of the top four for Navajo Pine, they were also three of the 2A top seven altogether at state. When you look at it in those terms, the Warriors have lost a bundle.
They'll have last year's 8th grade phenom, Ryan Kee, back this year, though, and that's a good start. Kee finished an eye-popping fifth at state last year. Also back for the Warriors are three more members of last year's state team--Micah Tsosie, Nicholas Begay, and Ryen Martinez.
So, naturally, we expect something from this team this fall. How much of something is still a little up in the air. We need to see how they come back and compete in the face of three enormous losses to graduation.
2A figures to be a little tighter this year.
If Navajo Pine had four of the top seven finishers in 2A last year, Zuni did them one better by having four of the top five finishers in 3A. Zuni was so powerful last year, it ceased to matter what the other teams had. The Thunderbirds had a team for the ages. Without a doubt, this was one of the best--and maybe the best--small-school team New Mexico has ever seen.
Of those five who finished in the top seven at state, however, four were seniors. Where Navajo Pine loses three, Zuni loses four. Any way you look at that, it's a serious gut punch. Oh, and Zuni's #6 was also a senior. There will not be any Deshawn Goodwin, Jarek Chimoni-Zunie, Jacy Edaakie, Dominic Yuselew, or Breydon Othole to torment the opposition this fall.
There will, however, be a Kameron Eustace and an Alec Lastyano. That's a start on a very good team, at least. Making matters more interesting will be (or at least could be) Tayan Benson and Micah Silvers. Benson ran with Miyamura during the season, and with Zuni at NXR-SW. So, one can be fairly skeptical that Benson figures on a Zuni team this fall. Silvers' only recorded effort last fall was NXR-SW, so we should find out soon enough his status for this fall.
All in all, don't get to feeling too badly for Zuni. They are well-stocked for another title run this fall. It doesn't figure to be the kind of gap the Thunderbirds opened at state last fall, but they probably do pencil in as favorites again this fall.
By now, Los Alamos has something of a tradition of spotting Albuquerque Academy a lead early in the season, then sneaking up and beating the Chargers. It happened again last year, with Los Alamos nipping AA, 40-43 at the state meet. And that was despite AA taking the first two places. Los Alamos seems to be able to find a way.
And, you'd have to admit that the Hilltoppers look like a serious contender for this fall as well. Only two of the varsity seven graduate--#3 Steven Strevell and #6 Gage Ellis. That leaves a lot of firepower returning.
Back for the team in green this year are Rafael Sanchez (the second returning finisher from state), Wakei Hettinga (the third returning finisher from state), Keith Bridge (the sixth returning finisher from state), Ryan Aldaz, and Wyatt Cionek. Digging deeper on the roster, it's definitely worth paying attention to Morgan Schaller and Reuben Goettee as well. The Hilltoppers have, at the very least, a very high-quality top seven returning.
The annual showdown at state with Albuquerque Academy seems, once again, a given, but the Hilltoppers figure to be very much in the thick of things once again next year.
Like they've done a few other times in the last decade, the Storm ran away with the 5A state cross country title last fall. Regardless of whether they won last fall or not, this team is a perpetual contender. They will be again this fall. It's not really going out on a limb to say that.
Gone are front runners Lucas Futey and Lucas Loe. Gone also are Jesus Martinez and Ricardo Garcia. This team has taken several substantial hits. But, the Storm has been taking substantial hits at graduation ever since they came on the scene.
The pipeline is full here.
Coming back from last year's state team are Cody Toya and Nathias Rael. Waiting turns in line are guys like Brandon Howell, Blayne Howell, and Jonathan Fragua. None of these guys look like threats to win an individual title but, together, they look like a very formidable team. And team is where it's at in cross country.
There will be no lapse in the long electric blue line. The main question to be answered concerns whether or not anyone can close the gap on this crew.