Forrest Gump would enjoy the cross county experience at Pojoaque Valley High School — because they just keep running.
The Elks return to the course following a Class 4A state runner-up finish while the Elkettes saw themselves end up sixth in the girls competition a year ago.
Both teams lose a lot of scoring power – six boys, four girls – but may have just enough coming back to make a case for a state spot and another run for a trophy.
Head coach Allan Lockridge enters his 31st season as the leader of the program and believes, despite the losses his teams have incurred, things could still be very interesting this fall.
Last year’s runner-up result for the boys could have even been better for a program that has won five state team titles. The girls have won three state team trophies to go along with 23 individual titles.
Four girls and three boys are back from running at state, yet they will be challenged with a change to a new district, 2-4A, featuring perennial powers on the girls’ side, Taos and Los Alamos, along with a tough Moriarty side and Española Valley High School. The boys’ teams won’t be pushovers either.
“So life is going to be harder,” Lockridge said. “We have a chance, if we put it together, with new kids and bring some kids up that become varsity quality, we have a chance to make it to state.”
The top three teams in the district make it to state.
Senior John Hall is back after finishing fifth at state individually, while junior girl Amerie Onesalt was 12th to pace the Pojoaque squads a year ago.
The team’s numbers this fall started off shaky and Hall was a bit worried, but things have worked themselves out and he feels good about his team.
“I see that our team is starting to form and we are looking a lot stronger,” Hall said. “The younger guys are getting older and getting better.”
The new district is also an excellent motivator for the boys.
“I have been able to train harder and I will be able to race against the best in New Mexico,” Hall said. “I will be able to push myself even more. I am nervous about it, but I am looking forward to the season.”
On the girls side, senior Taylor
Roybal knows that her team faces the same competitive challenge and a blend of substantial experience and a lot of raw youth will have to come together.
“We started off with only four girls this summer and one of our major runners was going to Rio Rancho, but then she decided to come back,” she said. “I have trained more this summer than I ever have before. I want to make it to state my senior year and do good. We have a lot of competition, but I think we can do it.”
The program appears ready to continue with its long legacy of success.
“We can say it’s coaching, but I just open the door and that’s all I do,” Lockridge said. “We tell them what to do, but they do it. They get into the spirit and I have had a lot of kids that when they left, they left a legacy of how to train and how to run.”
Both the boys and girls teams made the Class 5A state meets last year in Rio Rancho, but most of the runners are not returning to the team due to transfers or giving up the sport.
Ricky Padilla had the third best time for the boys last year as an eighth-grader at state and is expected to take charge as a freshman after the graduation of Daylon Garcia and the uncertainty of Ryan Trujillo returning. Padilla has lofty personal goals this season.
“I’m gonna go higher, extending,” he said. “I want to improve my time by 30 seconds, maybe a minute.”
The girls also graduated their top runner from a season ago in Faith Trujillo, who was the daughter of longtime head coach Julio Trujillo, who retired. Jayden Archuleta and Alysia Martinez return as the most experienced runners.
“After Faith’s graduation we all kind of thought that’s what would happen,” new head coach Aaron Salinas said of coach Trujillo’s retirement. “It’s cool though, I probably would have done the same. I originally applied for the girls position, so I was already getting that and they asked me if I’d take the boys too.”
Salinas has coached as an assistant for the team on and off over the last five seasons, but now he’s bringing along two experienced runners to assist him.
Alondra Aguirre, who ran for Española from 2013-16, will assist with the girls, while school counselor Landen Elliott-Knaggs will be Salinas’ right-hand man.
Elliott-Knaggs ran for St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y. while receiving his masters in school counseling.
“I think there’s probably a lot (my knowledge can bring),” he said. “Definitely in some of the more technical stuff like pacing. These kids start out every run like it’s a race. Probably also some speed workouts to get an idea on what their race-pace is so we can hold onto that. Also, nutrition and sleep and how big of a difference that can make.”
Española will open the season at 8 a.m., Aug. 25, in the Del Valdez Invitation at Española.