Pecos aims to stay step ahead of competition
New names, new faces, new classification.
Does any of that matter when it comes down to it for the Pecos cross-country program?
The Panthers have rocketed up the charts and have planted themselves as one of the premier programs in the state. Since 2015, Pecos has won three straight boys championships plus a third- and a runner-up trophy on the girls side. While the boys team lost four seniors, it is still primed to continue its domination as Pecos moves down to Class 1A/2A after spending the past four in 3A. Meanwhile, the girls program returns all five of its runners that produced a second-place finish at the Albuquerque Cottonwood Classical Prep in November.
The new classification means saying goodbye to old rivals like Zuni and Laguna Acoma for the boys, and Cottonwood Classical for the girls in lieu of some new faces in Navajo Pine, Newcomb and Peñasco. It also leads to the possibility that the school might have to make room for a pair of blue trophies at the season.
Pecos lost its No. 1 and No. 3 runners in Josh DeHerrera and Michael Montaño to graduation, but returns junior Isaiah Armijo, who took third behind DeHerrera’s second in the state meet, plus senior Angel Varela-Gomez and junior Devin Gonzales. That group is buoyed by a host of underclassmen and eighth-graders who are talented and capable of making a splash in November.
The Lady Panthers, though, might have a more challenging path because of Peñasco, the two-time reigning 1A/2A champion, and Academy for Technology and the Classics, which finished third and returns its core group of runners. Pecos’ lineup might be littered with underclassmen (senior Faith Flores is the lone upperclassman on the roster), but they are an accomplished group led by the trio of Vanessa Dominguez, Alexis Gonzales and Kianna Quintana. Add freshman Savanah Ortiz to that mix, and the Lady Panthers will be a factor in 2A for several years.
Not to be lost in that mix are the North’s other Lady Panthers, who also return everybody from last year. Topping that list is junior Carly Gonzales, who won her second state title in three years. However, she comes off a subpar spring in which she dealt with leg injuries for the track and field season. Freshman Maricela MacAuley, though, was the No. 2 runner last year and could pick up the slack.
In a continuing theme, ATC also returns all of its five runners from last year’s third place squad. Sophomores Maggie Rittmeyer, Naomi Eldridge, Kamryn Hoehne and Kate Ferguson and freshman Josette Gurule already have a first place trophy this season, as the Phoenix won the Delorenzo Julian Memorial Invitational at Dulce on Aug. 24.
Even though 3A saw significant change — farewell Taos, Pojoaque Valley, Shiprock, Moriarty and Albuquerque Hope Christian; hello Zuni, Laguna Acoma, Santa Fe Prep and Cottonwood Classical — what won’t change is how crowded the field will be in November. That is especially true on the boys side, as the top five in last year’s 3A meet were separated by a few points. That shouldn’t change this year, as Zuni and Laguna Acoma will compete with Navajo Prep, Santa Fe Indian School and St. Michael’s for a title.
The Horsemen might struggle early on, as No. 2 runner Eli Seward transferred out of state, but senior Justin Angel (fourth at state last year) and Adrian Veruerte-Maya (10th) return. Justice Johnson, who is a stalwart on the boys soccer team, and Derek Martinez leads a group of freshmen who St. Michael’s head coach Lenny Gurule hopes will give the cross-country team some depth.
“We’ve got some other freshmen, too,” Gurule said. “I just got to get in the work ethic, but that takes a little bit of time.”
SFIS graduated its top two runners, but sophomore Chris Humetewa and senior Jaden Aguino will be looked upon to fill those roles. The Braves came close to taking third, but West Las Vegas outlasted them. The Dons also lost their top two runners — state champion Miguel Coca and runner-up J.J. Esquibel — but Isaiah Paiz, who took third, returns.
On the girls side, the Lady Horsemen also lost a runner, as Abbie Leugers followed Seward’s path and transferred to Oregon. Senior Janai Clayton, who finished 12th overall last year, headlines another small group of only six runners.
SFIS is loaded with juniors, led by Iris Emery, Franki Chavez and Hunter Garcia. Las Vegas Robertson finished fourth and returns Makayla Quintana, who finished fourth in the 4A meet.
The intrigue is deep on the girls side. Los Alamos was second in 5A last year, while Taos won its fourth title in five years in 4A. The Lady Hilltoppers have all five of their top runners back, while the Lady Tigers have four of their top five back. All signs point to an exciting District 2-4A meet, and Pojoaque Valley head coach Allan Lockridge will have a front row seat.
“They are two of the best girls team in the state,” Lockridge said. “I’d put them in the top five, easily the top eight.”
Sophomore Ella Katz won the individual title for the Lady Tigers, and freshman Alyx Mastor was third. Meanwhile, Los Alamos has Lidia Appell, who was fifth in the 5A meet, while Norissa Valdez was eighth.
On the boys side, Los Alamos is the clear favorite in 2-4A and looks to improve on its third place finish at state. Pojoaque has John Hall, who was fifth in 4A, but will rely upon its youth to back him up in younger brother Zach Hall and Santiago Romero, both sophomores.
Santa Fe High lost a ton of seniors, including its lone state qualifier in Daisy Gephart, but return senior Judith Allison to lead the girls team into its new district (5-5A). The boys team has its top three runners returning in Elijah Gonzales-Matovich, Brock McKinney and Luca Pacheco. Joining Santa Fe High is Capital, which has a senior dominant boys team, but only three girls dot the Demonettes’ roster.