RIO RANCHO – The start to the 2022 high school cross country season looked plenty like the end of the 2021 season.
Sandia’s Steven West, the defending Class 5A state champion, ran an extremely swift final mile to capture first place in the Cleveland Invitational, while Albuquerque High’s Dani Figueroa, the state runner-up in 5A nearly 10 months ago, won the girls race.
A crowded field hit the course in the first major competition of the season.
Volcano Vista’s boys, last year’s 5A state champions, and the girls from Durango (Colorado) High were team titlists on a warm Saturday morning.
Sandia’s Steven West
West, a senior who has yet to make his college decision – “I’m starting that process right now,” he said – ended up winning by 14 seconds.
But he was a distant third, trailing by what he estimated to be 15 seconds, as the leaders approached the final mile.
“That was one of the most fun races of my life,” West said, smiling. “Because I had a comeback thing, so I felt really good.”
West, El Paso Coronado’s Luis Pastor and Hope Christian senior Rendon Kuykendall finished 1-2-3.
But Pastor and Kuykendall were leading two-thirds of the way through.
“I prepared and kicked it. I don’t know how almost I was going, but I caught them,” West said.
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West’s winning time was 15 minutes, 37.4 seconds. Pastor finished in 15.51.5, Kuykendall – last year’s 4A state champ – finished in 16:14.0.
Thomas Croshaw of Volcano Vista and Nick Moore of Eldorado rounded out the top five.
With three runners in the top nine in the team scoring, the Hawks scored 50 points, eight fewer than Coronado. For purposes of team, Orion Chavez was seventh and Dallan Reed ninth.
Rio Rancho (61) was third, with Cody Sullivan and Mateo Herrera placing fifth and sixth (for team purposes) for the Rams.
The girls’ race lacked the hometown star, Cleveland’s Leah Futey, who didn’t compete on Saturday, but Figueroa has been a standout since her first race at AHS and was on the short list of favorites on Saturday.
The finish for the girls was tighter at the top than the boys.
Figueroa, the top metro-area girl at last November’s state meet at Albuquerque Academy behind winner Ellary Battle of Alamogordo, raced to a 2-second victory.
She finished in 19 minutes, 33.2 seconds. Emma Montoya of Los Alamos (19:35.5) was next, followed by Dewa Ilg of Durango (19:40.0).
Albuquerque High’s Dani Figueroa
Katie Patton of Albuquerque Academy and Ariana Thiel-Hadjilambrinos of La Cueva were not far off the pace for third, and closed out the top five.
“We were all just pushing each other throughout the race,” said Figueroa, a sophomore. “I was kind of trying to push, but I was at the bottom of that hill over there (pointing behind the Cleveland High football/soccer stadium press box) and I said, ‘I gotta go.’ ”
Durango (67), Los Alamos (84) and Academy (94) were the top three teams.