Just before the start of Moriarty High School’s Feb. 27 cross country meet, new head coach Nicholas Arellano was busy checking in runners and handling the now-standard Covid-19 protocols of taking temperatures and getting everything situated.

The wind was gusting around 30 miles per hour, not ideal for distance running.

In spite of that, both Arellano and Estancia High’s head cross country coach Adrienne Pierce were equally exuberant about ringing in the return of high school competition in the state.

“We’re super-excited to compete,” Arellano said. “For my first meet, I’m ready for it.”

“I can’t believe it, I’m super-excited,” Pierce added. “Now that we’re here, we’re ready to go.”

The meet was held at Edgewood Middle School and included Legacy Academy. It was not only one of the first cross country competitions for any New Mexico high school in 15 months—Moriarty’s and Estancia’s teams last competed in November 2019—but it was also one of the first high school sporting events sanctioned by the New Mexico Activities Association to take place in the state since last March.

“The [starting] gun will go off at 9 o’clock and that’ll kick off sports for the 20-21 school year,” Moriarty’s athletic director Joe Anaya said before the meet began, adding, “Sports are back.”

The meet did not feature any of the typical trimmings usually associated with cross country events. There were no canopies set up for teams, no clusters of runners milling about stretching or warming up; there were no spectators; and there was no chute: the narrow area at the end of the race where runners are funneled after the finish line.

“Kids wear masks the whole race, there’s no sharing of water, and there’s no congregation at the finish line anymore,” Anaya said. “Once the students are done, their cool-down will be walking back to their bus.”

The meet started with the boys race. Moriarty senior Ben McMurtrey took an early lead and never let up.

Ben McMurtrey crossing the finish line. Photo by Ger Demarest.

With his teammates Henry Schuett and David Vaquera not far behind him, McMurtrey extended his lead and won the race in 20 minutes, 45 seconds. Schuett crossed the finish line 40 seconds later, followed by Vaquera.

“I tried to get a big enough lead on them so they couldn’t sprint ahead of me,” McMurtrey said about his pacing, adding, “I’m pretty happy, it’s awesome, I really enjoy running and I’m super-glad to be able to do it again this year.”

“Ben did a fantastic job, and with Henry and David right behind him, a one-two-three punch,” Arellano said.

No Estancia boys competed.

In the girls race, Estancia’s Jayde Perea grabbed the lead right out of the gate. Despite taking a wrong turn about a quarter of a mile into the race and veering off course—with a few other runners following her—she got back on track, regained the lead, stormed ahead and easily won by more than a minute and a half with a time of 25:11.

Jayde Perea crossing the finish line. Photo by Ger Demarest.

Perea’s teammate Mariana Sanchez finished in second place.

“I think my time was a little off, I think I could do better,” Perea said as she walked back to the Bears’ bus, adding, “I’m pretty excited that this even gets to happen, I think we’re pretty fortunate.”

Rebekah McMurtrey was Moriarty’s top girls runner placing fourth; Estancia’s Alana Sosa finished in fifth place; Moriarty’s Evalinn Volk placed sixth and Kaisa-Tinuviel Baca took seventh.

“I think the girls did awesome,” Pierce said of her team. “They did everything I asked them to do even in this really icky weather. This was a great way to start our season, our first meet, and we’re ready to keep going.”

“The wind was a little challenging, but for the first meet in the books for this season, it’s a great accomplishment for all three teams and especially for our program to get started,” Arellano said.

“This was really fun,” Anaya said. “You don’t realize how much you miss it till it’s gone and then when it’s back you’re excited to be back—so far so good, meet one is done.”

In her latest video interview posted on March 1, NMAA executive director Sally Marquez—who’s been posting “We Will Play Again” videos on the association’s website for almost a year—said: “What a great event just to see kids participating again. We had a few cross country meets this weekend, and it’s been 11-and-a-half months since kids have put on their school uniforms and competed.”

Moriarty’s and Estancia’s cross country teams’ next meet is at East Mountain on March 8.