East Mountain High School’s cross country team is already getting the ball rolling for the fall campaign with informal morning runs three days a week.
During one of last week’s morning jaunts the team was joined by a couple of alumni and even a toddler.
“I’m just out here having a little fun with friends,” said 2015 East Mountain graduate Amira Cunningham. Cunningham holds three individual state titles from her high school running days.
“We get just as many alumni as current students, which is good,” said East Mountain’s assistant cross country coach Phil Keller, who pushed his 19-month-old son Micah in a carriage during the morning run. “But it’s like any preseason, it’s not mandatory, it’s just about getting the kids together, team building, and the seniors are the ones leading it—they know what to do.”
Last fall, two of East Mountain’s top senior distance runners—Alex Heffelfinger and Addison Rauch—claimed Class 4A state individual cross country titles. Now Keller and head coach Dave Naylor are hoping for similar success from the current crop of seniors.
“I’m glad the seniors are overseeing the summer running [activities], they’re doing what they need to do,” Naylor said. “That’s when it’s worked in the past—when the kids have made the commitment in the summer.”
Both coaches noted seniors Augie Montoya and Isiah Padilla as the main leaders on the boys’ side. “Isiah and Augie will be our 1-2 punch,” Keller said.
The probable pacesetter on the girls’ side is Aubri Wrye, a state-champion transfer from Estancia High who’s now eligible for East Mountain’s varsity team.
“Aubri getting eligible is huge,” Keller said.
Because of the New Mexico Activities Association’s rules on transferring high schools, Wrye wasn’t eligible for the varsity cross country squad last fall. However, she was eligible to participate in track last May, where she claimed three state titles.
“She’s probably the frontrunner to get an individual title,” Naylor said.
“Going into the season, I definitely want to break 19 minutes, that’s always been one of my goals,” Wrye said, alluding to her best time in the standard 5K cross country race. As a sophomore at Estancia in 2014 she won the Class 3A girls state title with a time of 19:37.55.
Another challenge for East Mountain is its new District 5-4A.
Gone are the long trips to Ruidoso and Portales, but instead the school will now battle Bosque, Bernalillo, Sandia Prep and Santa Fe Indian. Naylor said the new district will be more competitive but he likes the team’s chances.
“We’re pretty excited,” he said. “I like the [new] district, I expect some good races.”
Ger has been writing and shooting photos of high school sports for The Independent for 15 years. His dedication to youth athletics goes beyond sports reporting. He is past president of East Mountain Little League and works as a baseball umpire. He lives in Edgewood with his family.