After the final race at the Albuquerque Academy Extravaganza cross country meet Oct. 21, Moriarty head coach Ben Wiltbank spoke to his runners as they sat in a shaded area, drenched in sweat.
“Who here didn’t feel like they were gonna die out there?” Wiltbank asked. “It was hot. Your times are not gonna be what you want. We just have to learn from this.”
On a day that felt more like August than October, distance runners from Moriarty, East Mountain and Estancia high schools competed against hundreds of other runners from around New Mexico in a warmup for the upcoming state championships Nov. 11.
“Everybody who we just ran with will be at state, so it gives us a pretty good idea of where we are and how we can get better for when state comes around,” said Moriarty’s Bruno Vaquera.
Vaquera placed 50th in the Class 4A boys race with a time of 19-minutes, 3.03 seconds in a field of more than 160 runners. He had a close finish with a runner from rival Los Alamos, edging the Hilltopper by less than a second.
After the race, Vaquera’s mind was on improving: “I need to be a little bit faster on my first mile and my third mile since it’s the start and the finish.”
Moriarty’s top runner was Caleb Gustafson who finished 44th in 18:47.72.
The course and the schedule area preview for the upcoming state championships. The Class 3A schools went first. The 5A and the 1A-2A schools were sandwiched in the middle and the 4A schools finished the meet.
The 3A boys race kicked off the meet with the temperature in the high 70s. East Mountain’s Joshua Komensky was the Timberwolves’ top finisher at 26th in 18:31.20. He was nonchalant after the race, noting that it was “just another meet.”
Teammate Andre LaJeunesse, who pocketed a personal best on the course, said it was one of the largest races of the season.
“We normally run with like around 80 kids and this one was like 140,” LaJeunesse said.
On the girls’ side, Verity Gray was East Mountain’s top finisher.
Gray said the team had been looking forward to the Academy meet for much of the season.
“This meet is really important just because it’s the course for the state meet,” she said. “So it’s good to get a glimpse of where you’re at and where you need to be, basically a dress rehearsal.”
The 5A boys and girls competitions were both won by Rio Rancho High School’s teams, piloted by former East Mountain running coach Phil Keller.
“Our boys are really good, and our girls are starting to believe in themselves and today was a huge step forward in that,” Keller said.
The Class 1A-2A races got underway around noon with the temperature climbing into the mid-80s, belying the yellow cottonwood trees around the Academy course that hinted at a crisp fall day.
Estancia’s boys and girls competed individually because the Bears were missing runners from both teams. Estancia’s boys team had only three runners, the girls team had four.
“I just wanted them to get comfortable with the state course as well as the temperature, and to scope out the competition,” Estancia head coach Adrienne Pierce said.
The 1A-2A boys race was the largest of the day with nearly 190 runners lining up at the start.
Stephen Barela, the Bears’ top finisher at 79th, got outkicked down the final 50 yards by a runner from Hagerman.
“Gotta give him respect for passing me at the end,” Barela said. “I didn’t feel as strong as I usually do running, especially when I hit the second mile.”
Caelee Taylor was Estancia’s top girl at 82nd, followed by Jhenna Valencia at 91st.
Taylor said it was “pretty hot,” and Valencia said she “had a bad day running.”
Pierce said she told her runners to take it all in stride.
“I told them, ‘Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of kids here, this is literally what state looks like,’” Pierce said.
The meet wrapped up with the 4A girls race. Each runner on Moriarty’s girls team had something motivational written on their arms and legs — their “mantras” they called it — such as “Finish Strong,” on their arms, and “Slay” on the backs of their calves.
After the race, as Moriarty’s girls recuperated in the shade, they swapped stories.
One of the girls said that as she passed a girl who was struggling, she told the girl to look at the back of her legs: “When I ran in front of her, she saw the ‘Slays,’ and she was like, ‘Oh my gosh, I love that, thank you!’”
Ashtyn Walter was Moriarty’s top girls finisher at 30th in 22:33.80. Moriarty’s girls team placed sixth.
“It’s exciting,” Walter said about her finish, adding, “It was really hot. When I got to the solar panels [along the course], I was like, ‘Solar panels, sun, oh my gosh, heat!’ That’s where it was the worst.”
Coach Wiltbank said he felt the meet was a good practice run to help his runners prepare themselves for the district meet in two weeks, followed by the state championships next month.
“We wanted to focus on where we finished with the other teams in our district and we were the second-place team behind Los Alamos, which we know we’re gonna be second behind them — they’re a juggernaut,” Wiltbank said. “Now we’re gonna focus on what went well and what didn’t go well so we can have a better day in three weeks at state.”
Albuquerque Academy Extravaganza
Local Individual Results
Boys Class 1-2A
79, Stephen Barela, Estancia, 21:01.49
117, Clay Hedges, Estancia, 22:49.07
181, Ben Helbig, Estancia, 29:09.61
Girls Class 1-2A
82, Caelee Taylor, Estancia, 29:14.47
91, Jhenna Valencia, Estancia, 30:21.22
98, Lucille Summers, Estancia, 31:26.80
107, Anya Wagner, Estancia, 33:23.67
26, Joshua Komensky, East Mountain, 18:31.20
33, Andre LaJeunesse, East Mountain, 18:52.80
49, Ewan Kannolt, East Mountain, 19:29.52
60, Skylar Reilly, East Mountain, 19:56.57
68, Hayden Villescas, East Mountain, 20:15.95
77, Caleb Sanchez, East Mountain, 20:45.56
83, Josiah Miller, East Mountain 20:57.96
86, Jeremiah Johnson, East Mountain, 21:05.71
101, Roha Gobena, East Mountain, 22:04.02
52, Verity Gray, East Mountain, 24:02.06
86, Sophia Luna, East Mountain, 27:02.90
87, Alexis Smith, East Mountain, 27:03.70
91, Kayleen Kocharoff, East Mountain, 27:18.28
99, Yulianna Belyaev, East Mountain, 29:42.51
44, Caleb Gustafson, Moriarty, 18:47.72
50, Bruno Vaquera, Moriarty, 19:03.03
74, Daniel Gonzales, Moriarty, 19:58.06
82, Matthew McMurtrey, Moriarty, 20:17.24
91, Devin Wiltbank, Moriarty, 20:31.96
96, Nathan McMurtrey, Moriarty, 20:47.13
98, Michael Nieto, Moriarty, 20:48.66
105, Landon Stalker, Moriarty, 20:53.72
111, Thomas Dolce, Moriarty, 21:13.64
30, Ashtyn Walter, Moriarty, 22:33.80
34, Carmen Dorsey-Spitz, Moriarty, 22:49.50 31
42, Olivia Hasler, Moriarty, 23:16.12
46, Kyndal Wiltbank, Moriarty, 23:22.92
59, Rachel Gustafson, Moriarty, 24:02.52
65, Clara Windsor, Moriarty, 24:23.94
73, Chloe Eastman, Moriarty, 24:54.93
92, Rachel Olson, Moriarty, 26:27.83