Mountainair High School brought home its first-ever girls state crown, East Mountain claimed its first-ever dual gold medals in individual races and its boys team took second place, and an Estancia freshman placed third at last Saturday’s state cross country championships in Rio Rancho.
“It’s ginormous,” Mountainair coach Lisa Gikas said of the girls Class 1A-2A state championship. “It really is fantastic, the girls are so excited to have that state banner.”
The 3.1-mile course meandered around the back of Rio Rancho High School’s campus and concluded inside the football stadium. Runners traversed both hilly dirt trails and paved, spectator-lined sections.
In the Class 1A-2A individual race, Mountainair senior Taylor Gikas placed fifth and freshman Amber Lajeunesse, who finished less than a second behind Gikas, placed sixth out of a field of 77 runners.
“We knew we had a good chance,” Gikas said. “To be on that podium is amazing.”
Eighth-grader Alyiah Padilla finished ninth and two other Lady Mustangs placed in the top 25 to help tally a score of 56 points out of 16 teams—32 points ahead of second-place rival Jemez Valley, which Mountainair recently beat to win the District 2 title.
In Class 4A, East Mountain’s Alex Heffelfinger won his second consecutive cross country gold medal. “Today is one of my biggest victories,” he said.
Heffelfinger’s finish time of 16:01.4 marked a personal record—shaving almost 5.5 seconds off his time in last year’s race.
Heffelfinger said he paced himself slowly for the first two miles and traded leads with Santa Fe Indian School’s Michael Tonorio and a handful of other top finishers.
Then, about 2.5 miles into the race, Kashon Harrison from Kirtland Central flew past everyone for the lead. “That’s when I picked it up,” Heffelfinger said. “[Coach Phil] Keller yelled ‘I believe in you,’ and my dad was yelling, so I started booking it around the corners.”
Heffelfinger crossed the finish line more than 14 seconds ahead of second-place finisher Tonorio and 22 seconds ahead of Harrison.
East Mountain’s Isiah Padilla placed fifth with a time of 16:42.35, more than 37 seconds ahead of his time in last year’s race.
With Heffelfinger and Padilla finishing in the top 5, and three other Timberwolves finishing in the top 45, the team placed second overall out of 19 schools, two positions better than last year’s fourth spot, but 24 points behind first-place Zuni.
“They ran great,” East Mountain coach Dave Naylor said of his boys team. “They just weren’t going to beat Zuni today, they easily beat us.”
East Mountain’s Addison Rauch won her first Class 4A state gold medal out of a field of 94 runners with a time of 19:11.95. She bested last year’s finish by nearly 7 seconds.
“I’m so happy, I can’t believe I did it, that’s the hardest I’ve ever run,” Rauch said after crossing the finish line more than 12 seconds ahead of second-place finisher and defending state champion Cora Cannedy from Taos.
Rauch had led most of last year’s race before Cannedy passed her down the stretch to win the gold, and Rauch said that disappointment sat with her ever since. “In practice I was telling myself, ‘What if my teammate Aubri [Wrye] was Cora, how hard would I be going?’”
Approaching the second mile mark in Saturday’s race Rauch trailed Pojoaque’s Megan Herrera, who faltered down the stretch and ended up finishing fourth.
With just under a mile to go Cannedy moved up several positions, but Rauch poured it on in the final half mile and entered the football stadium all alone.
“My dad told me, ‘Rip your ears off,’ which makes you pump your arms and go like this, boom-boom,” she said demonstrating with her fists flying. “It made me run faster.”
The Lady T’Wolves finished sixth as a team.
In Class 3A, Estancia freshman Jaimey Fastnacht passed Cottonwood Classical Prep’s Rhylyn Jones 30 yards before the finish line to win the bronze medal out of a field of 70 runners.
Fastnacht beat Jones by less than a second, with a time of 20:32.7, shaving more than 47 seconds off her time from last year when she ran as an eighth-grader. “I kept thinking, ‘It’s not the end of the race yet, I can keep going,’” she said.
Kaitlyn Calhoon, Estancia’s only other state qualifier, finished 14th.
“I think they both ran a fantastic race,” said Estancia’s first-year coach Adrienne Montoya.
Five area high schools had individual runners competing but only Mountainair and East Mountain qualified the minimum number of runners to field entire teams.
This is only the second year of Mountainair’s cross country program and the first time it qualified enough runners to field girls and boys teams.
Mountainair freshman Wyatt Greene finished 33rd overall but officially got credit for 22nd because 11 runners who finished ahead of him were without teams.
The Mustangs placed ninth as a team.
Moriarty’s top individual runners were Olivia Riblett who finished 69th in the Class 5A girls race, and Carson Springer at 64th for the boys.
Manzano’s top 6A finishers were Catie Jungmann at 24th and Karl Eickoff at 91st.
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.