As the 2019 cross country season quickly approaches district championships and the state meet, two of Española Valley High School’s top runners are keeping up with the pace.

The junior duo of Sundevil Juan Branch and Lady Sundevil Emily Chavez both have the same goal in mind of qualifying for the 2019 State Cross Country Championship on Nov. 9 at Rio Rancho High School, and the pair’s latest effort coincides with possibility of reaching the goal at hand.

At their latest meet, the Northern New Mexico Challenge, which was hosted at the Pojoaque Pueblo Wellness Center on Oct. 12, Branch ran his way to a 22nd place finish in 18 minutes, 5.96 seconds and Chavez set a new personal record with a 23rd place finish in 22:10.04.

The boys race had a total of 120 runners and the girls field was made up of 89 harriers.

The course at the Wellness Center featured its toughest stretch in the very first mile-and-a-half, where runners were challenged with a continuous uphill battle.

“I’m surprised how fast Emily ran with that uphill first mile,” Española head coach Landen Elliott-Knaggs said. “We talked about it, and she wanted to get out more aggressive. She was consistent all summer and has been consistent in practice, so I can’t say I’m surprised to see her where she is at and how she finished today."

Chavez’s PR was 11 seconds faster than her previous best mark.

“This course was tough at the beginning,” Chavez said. “But, once we got to the downhill, it was good. All I do is just try to push harder than the last race.”

As for Branch — who left the meet before he could be asked to comment — Elliott-Knaggs said he always pushes harder every race, but his best effort has probably not been witnessed yet this season.

Branch is still working back and adjusting from a knee injury that forced him to sit out last cross country season.

“He’s starting to pick it up a little bit, but I don’t know if he’s still had a day where he’s felt really good,” Elliott-Knaggs said. “When he finally has his best race, I know it will be a pretty impressive improvement.”

This Saturday, Española will race at the Rio Rancho Jamboree at Rio Rancho High School, allowing the two runners a preview at the state championship course they hope to return to on Nov. 9.

With the Lady Sundevils not fielding a full team of five runners and the Sundevils pushing for the third-place and the last state-qualifying team spot at the Nov. 1 District 2-4A Championship at Edgewood Middle School, Chavez and Branch’s possibility of making the state meet could very well come down to their individual performances.

In district championship meets, the top three runners from non-qualifying state teams earn automatic berths in Class 3A-5A.

“That’s the goal,” Chavez said. “If I keep pushing and try hard enough, I know I can push my time lower.”

Elliott-Knaggs was confident in both runners’ chances at qualifying in the non-qualifying team spots, and he was also optimistic about Jose Castro chances.

The Los Alamos High School boys and the Taos High School boys are destined for first and second place finishes in the District, so the third and final state spot will be fought over between Española, Pojoaque Valley High School and Moriarty High School.

At the Northern New Mexico Challenge, Española’s Vanessa Muñoz finished 83rd as the only other Lady Sundevil to run.

For the Sundevils, Andry Lujan finished 49th (19:14.87), Dominic Maestas and Mario Equino came in at 56th and 57th and Zachary Salazar was 63rd.


Pojoaque Competitors Fair Well at Northern New Mexico Challenge

After a few weeks at the top of the podium and a respectful showing at the John Grimley Invitational, the Pojoaque Valley High School girls cross country team saw two of its District 2-4A opponents flourish ahead of them.

While Class 2A’s Academy for the Technology and the Classics won the Northern New Mexico Challenge on Oct. 12 at the Pojoaque Pueblo Wellness center with a team score of 48, the Elkettes’ eyes were probably more drawn to the second and third place scores.

That’s because Los Alamos High School (53) and Taos High School (78), Pojoaque’s main competitors in the District, were able to outscore the Elkettes by 83 and 58 points.

Pojoaque’s team score was 136, and they were led by Mia Vigil’s 11th place finish in 21 minutes, 9.26 seconds. Sisters Marisa and Michaela Martinez ran in close quarters to one another, finishing 22nd and 25th, and the Elkettes’ scoring was rounded out by Arissa Herrod (36th) and Kaylee Martinez (42).

Los Alamos was charged by the pack of Kamaya Ronning, Hailey McDowell and Jasmine Hornberger, as the trio placed in the seventh, eighth and ninth spots. Sophie Fisher followed closely behind in 12th and Amaya Coblents was 17th.

The Lady Tigers from Taos had three runners finish inside the top 10, including the winner of the race in sophomore Alyx Mastor.

Mastor (19:37.51) was able to outduel Santa Fe High School’s Maya Holder (20:13.95) in second.

The winning Lady Phoenix were able to edge out the Lady Hilltoppers thanks to Maggie Rittmeyer, Kamryn Hoehne and Lily Rittmeyer’s third, fifth and sixth place results.

On the boys side of the meet, Los Alamos took first with 72 points and Taos was second by scoring 90.

Santa Fe Indian School’s Chris Humetewa won the race in 16:46.80 to help the Braves secure third place with 128 points.

Locally, Pojoaque scored 137 points and had a sixth-place finish from Santiago Romero and 13th-place finish from Dylan Romero.

Zach Hall, Isaiah Roybal and Lucas Tiede finished in 37th, 39th and 42nd for the Elks.

Amid the latter Pojoaque pack was an exciting finish from Mesa Vista High School teammates Damian Trujillo and Danny Gollas.

The two ran stride for stride beside each other in the final 50-or-so yards, and Trujillo barely managed to beat out Gollas by five-tenths of a second.

Kodi Rodriguez finished 59th to lead the McCurdy Charter School boys, and he was followed by teammates Isaiah Abeyta (62nd), Josh Serrano (95th) and Adrian Trujillo (115th).

Dulce High School’s Isaiah Reval finished 47th to lead the Hawks.

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