Vista Grande Community Complex in Sandia Park was bustling Sept. 25 as hundreds of high school and middle school distance runners, coaches and fans came out for the return of the Nick Martin Memorial cross country meet.

Area distance runners from East Mountain and Estancia high schools, including a mountain biker who recently took up cross country, competed against runners from a dozen high schools and middle schools from around the state.

The boys’ and girls’ varsity and JV runners competed in 5K races; the middle school runners competed in 1.5K races.

The course for the races start and end on the soccer field at the Vista Grande Community Complex and meanders through the forest behind the main community center building.

East Mountain’s girls garnered enough top finishers to take second place as a team. East Mountain newcomer Thomas Fabian was the school’s top finisher in the boys varsity race.

Estancia’s Jayde Perea was the top finisher from the area high schools in the girls varsity race, finishing in fourth place with a time of 24:06.81.

“Obviously I didn’t win, but I felt like this was one of my better races, especially my mindset and stuff,” Perea said, her fingernails still glowing with polish after being crowned Homecoming Queen the night before. “I felt like it was a lot better than my previous races this year.”

With a seventh-place finish by Emily Barker and teammates claiming four other spots in the top-25, East Mountain’s girls’ team took second place.

Ashley Sesnie came in 10th place, followed by Greta Martin, Natalya Villescas and Jessie Leibold in 17th, 19th, and 22nd respectively.

Fabian, a mountain biker who recently moved to the East Mountains from Arizona, never competed in distance running before and said he went out for cross country to make some new friends.

He finished fifth in the varsity boys race with a time of 20:33.24.

“I’m pretty happy with fifth, I took like two minutes off my previous best time so I’m pretty happy with that,” Fabian said.

East Mountain’s Gabe Case and Andre LaJeunesse also finished in the top-20 to help the boys team take third place.

“The kids who ran today pushed themselves hard,” East Mountain’s cross country head coach Amira McKee said. “It was a great day.”

Estancia Middle School eighth grader Michael Johnson ran in the boys varsity race and finished 13th.

Estancia’s cross country head coach Adrienne Pierce said Johnson had to get approval from the New Mexico Activities Association to compete at the varsity level.

“It was a smart choice to move him up to varsity,” Pierce said of Johnson, adding that the meet “was really good across the board, it’s close to home and everyone worked really hard.”

In the middle school and JV race—which ran as one large race with the JV runners taking two laps around the course and the middle-schoolers taking one—Edgewood Middle School eighth grader Raina Chavez captured the top spot for the girls, and Moriarty Middle School eighth grader Thomas Dolce took the top spot for the boys.

The annual Nick Martin Memorial cross country meet, which was canceled in 2020 due to Covid, was named in honor of East Mountain High School runner Nick Martin, who passed away in 2010 at the age of 16.