Piedra Vista's Harrison Fleming rolls through the state course just ahead of Gallup's Alexander Taylor and Belen's Dontae Vigil. PIedra Vista and Belen are two 4A teams with solid potential to move up next fall. Photo by Alan Versaw.
This year's 4A state meet was a Los Alamos sweep. That's happened twice before, or at least twice in the lifetimes of most of the members of the current Los Alamos team--in 2003 and 2011. So, back-to-back title sweeps is a pretty impressive thing, but can the Hilltoppers make it three in a row?
We'll start with the boys analysis.
Colin Hemez is the only one of the Los Alamos top five who will be back next fall. Mike Walker figures to step up from the #6 position. And, the Hilltoppers can still fill a regular varsity roster with sub-18 guys from this year's team next fall, but they do figure to be a work in progress when the season starts next fall. Let's be clear, however, that a "work in progress" is a rung or two above "rebuilding year" on the schematic ladder of things. The Hilltoppers will be competitive (aren't they always?). Exactly how competitive remains to be seen.
On paper, the team from Albuquerque Academy figures to be the main problem for Los Alamos. That, too, has a familiar ring to it. The Chargers get back five 16-mid or better guys in Kevin Wyss, Kyle Carrozza, Aric Kedge, Carlos C de Baca, and Jorge Otero. And Kedge will only be a freshman next fall. It's scary to think where the next year or two of development might take him. It's very difficult not to look at the returning roster at AA and pencil them in as next year's favorites.
The two traditional titans of New Mexico cross country figure to match up well at 1 and 2. Right now, the big difference between Los Alamos and Albuquerque Academy teams for next fall lies at the 3-4-5 positions. And, that's a pretty important part of the roster to have a big difference. And so, the early advantage tilts toward red.
I know the coaches at both of these schools, and like them both, but I'm not going to end the analysis with their two teams.
There are other teams in New Mexico 4A. They have their work cut out for them in a serious way, but we'll take a look at a two or three teams showing some promise from the latter stages of this year's season.
First on that list would be Belen. The Eagles finished third at this year's state meet and return a very good front three in Dontae Vigil, Aaron Romero, and Jared Garcia. Projecting a reasonable development from these three and a solid two joining them leaves you staring down a very good team next fall. But both pieces--reasonable development and a solid two joining--must happen for Belen to close ranks on LA and AA. Nothing short of that will get them there.
Piedra Vista is another upwardly mobile 4A team of late. The Panthers lose one key piece of this year's team in Brandon Levi, but bring back the second key piece in Harrison Fleming. Like Belen, PV has to know that nothing short of five solid gets it done when you must bang heads at the state meet with Los Alamos and Albuquerque Academy. The good news here is that Christian Fowler, Jaron Harmon, Ryan Kruger, and Keenan Lee were all sophomores or younger this fall. If they're willing to pay the dues between now and next fall, the kind of progress you can expect from sophomore-to-junior or freshman-to-sophomore years leaves a lot of room for optimism in Sampson Sage's camp.
If there is a team with the potential to explode onto the scene next fall and disrupt the happy little LA-AA party, Piedra Vista has the look of just such a team. I'm guessing Coach Sage has already told his star returning runner that the time to lead fearlessly has arrived, but, if not, I'll be the bearer of that news here and now.
And, then there is Gallup. Gallup's level has slipped a little in recent years from the high tide of a decade or so ago, but they still run some solid cross country. Galvin Yazzie, Alexander Taylor, and James Woody give them both speed and experience up front (Note: I have Alexander Taylor as a junior in some results, and as a senior in others. I went with junior, but it's possible he's not back next fall). The Bengals never seem to be too far away.
Truthfully, I don't think Los Alamos and Albuquerque Academy would mind in the least if a couple of new 4A teams joined them at the level of excellence they've established in 4A.
The 2012 recap here is pretty much identical to the one for the boys. Los Alamos wins, Albuquerque Academy chases. There was, however, another major player in the form of St. Pius X.
Los Alamos returns graduates a lot in Jennifer Mooday and Teresa Sandoval, but returns even more in the persons of Jordan Parker and Talia Dreicer and Mikayla Pulliam and Madison Foley and .... And you kind of suspect there might be a freshman or two on the way up. That seems to be the way things go.
So, the road to the top in 2013 is a road with an incline. Nobody will get to the top simply by staying where they were this year.
Last I checked, though, Albuquerque Academy was on an incline all season long. Assuming both are healthy next fall, there are very few teams in the state, regardless of classification, that can answer to the 1-2 of Claire and Erin Archibeck. And what we don't know about next fall's freshman class at Los Alamos, we already know about AA's freshman class. Cameren Kristensen, Alex Dean, and Melina McClure are already battle-hardened and ready to rumble. That's not good news for the rest of 4A. Ellie Wynn should be a proven sophomore next fall.
Can St. Pius keep pace next fall? They figure to start out with Kelli Reagan and Julie Gianinni. That's a good place to start when the compeition starts with Archibeck squared. The development of the rest of the roster will tell the story for the Sartans.
From here, it was a long way back to Piedra Vista in fourth at the state meet. The Panthers return their #1 in Paris Chee, but lose their #2. That's not going to make things any easier. Closing the gap next fall on the big three isn't going to be easy. But, that's the task that lays ahead of PV, Santa Teresa, and all the rest of 4A.