East Mountain High’s Alex Heffelfinger and Addison Rauch both won their varsity races while a pair of newcomers for the Timberwolves took the top JV spots at last Saturday’s Nick Martin Memorial Cross Country Invite in Sandia Park.
Twenty-two high schools and middle schools participated in the annual event.
The East Mountain varsity boys team took first place with 56 points; the varsity girls squad settled for a second-place finish behind Hope Christian for the second consecutive year.
“They ran very, very well,” East Mountain coach and athletic director Dave Naylor said. “We won the boys, and the girls were second which is great.”
It was Rauch’s third consecutive Nick Martin victory.
Heffelfinger claimed his first-ever crown on his home trail after placing third the past two years.
Heffelfinger, the reigning Class 4A boys state champion in both cross country and the 800-meter track event, never trailed in last Saturday’s race amongst a field of 119 runners. His winning time of 17:45 was 9.3 seconds better than last year’s.
Unlike last year’s event, when he started strong only to get passed down the stretch, Heffelfinger said he paced himself better this time around.
“What was different about today was I didn’t split from the pack until after the first mile,” Heffelfinger said.
For most of the race Heffelfinger paced the pack with teammate Isaiah Padilla right behind him, followed by a cluster of runners that included second-place finisher Peter Siminski from Hope Christian. Padilla finished third.
Heffelfinger finished 14 seconds ahead of Siminski, but said it was Padilla who gave him a bit of a scare.
“I remember going up the hill, he was right behind me, and I was like, ‘Crap, am I not going hard enough?’ because I need to beat him,” said Heffelfinger. “He can have the records and state championship next year, but they’re mine this year.”
Rauch, who shaved 4.8 seconds off last year’s winning time, built a solid lead during the first lap. By the second lap she led teammate Sierra Stapleton by more than a minute. Stapleton took second place.
“When I was out on my own it was tough because you don’t have anyone to push you,” Rauch said. “I was actually thinking, ‘If Aubri was with me, how hard would I be going?’ so I was mentally racing Aubri.”
Rauch was referring to former Estancia standout and reigning Class 3A girls state champion Aubri Wrye, who now runs for East Mountain.
Estancia freshman Jaimey Fastnacht took seventh place in the varsity race.
Estancia’s first-year head coach Adrienna Montoya, who ran the race when she was in high school for the Lady Bears, said she felt her team “fared really well.”
“This is our hill training for state,” Montoya said.
Wrye took the top spot in the girls JV race with a time of 21:59; her teammates Isabelle Weisberg and Atanah Shannon finished third and fourth, respectively.
It was Wrye’s first high school race since winning the gold medal at state last year for Estancia, and said it felt “so good to be back.” At last year’s Nick Martin race, Wrye placed second behind Rauch.
Wrye said she’s enjoying being teammates with Rauch as opposed to competing against her. “Training with Addi has helped me a lot,” Wrye said.
Despite her time being considerably slower than last year’s Nick Martin finish, Wrye said, “This is my first race of the season technically, so I’m actually OK with it.”
Augie Montoya, another former Estancia runner who now attends East Mountain, took the top spot for the JV boys; his teammate Scott Coon finished sixth.
Both Wrye and Montoya are required to sit out of varsity participation for 180 days from their transfer dates under New Mexico Activities Association rules.
Mountainair’s Wyatt Greene took seventh place in the JV race, while Mountainair Jr. High’s Aliyah Padilla won the girls middle school 1.5-mile race.
Lynnelle Chavez, who co-coaches Mountainair’s squad, said she’s excited about her team’s progress.
“We only have a few but they’re very dedicated, they give it everything they have so that’s a great step,” Chavez said.
Mountainair was missing several runners due to a conflict with their volleyball schedule, including freshman Amber Lajeunesse, who won last year’s girls middle school race.
Roosevelt’s squad took the top spot among middle school girls.
East Mountain’s course begins and ends on the soccer field at Vista Grande Community Complex with the varsity 5K race comprising two laps around a 1.5-mile dirt trail that meanders through the forest behind the school and the community complex. “It’s a true cross-country course—it’s not flat and it has a little mix of everything,” Naylor said.
Near the end of each lap is a grueling uphill trek that had several runners walking up, some of them in tears. “The hill, it just kills you,” said Rauch. “That’s mentally the hardest part.”
The race, now in its 11th year, was re-named in honor of Nick Martin, an East Mountain High runner who passed away in April 2010 at the age of 16.
“We talk to the kids about it and I think they’re proud to run in his name,” Naylor said. “He embodied all the things that we would like to see in anybody who ever suited up for us.”
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.