College Corner: Men’s Cross Country

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From the hills of the Sangre De Cristo mountains to the sandy plains of southern New Mexico, Valencia county runners are making major contributions to collegiate cross country programs at both the Division I and Division II levels. Here are some of the Valencia County athletes and the details of their 2011 performances.

If you know any county products competing at the college level, contact the News-Bulletin by email: jbrooks@news-bulletin.com.

Jonah Ruybalid, New Mexico State

It was a banner year for the younger Ruybalid as he displaced his brother, Ian, as the top runner on the Aggie squad.

He moved up from being the No. 3 runner on the team during his first two years for New Mexico State. Ruybalid graduated from Los Lunas High School in 2009.

The Aggies finished second to Utah State in the conference championships held in Honolulu, Hawaii, Ruybalid finishing sixth to earn all-conference honors.

He said, “I feel like I ran better at the beginning of the season, but overall I was pleased. Our conference championship was in Hawaii this year, which was really neat.”

Ruybalid’s best finish was at New Mexico State’s Kachina Classic, where Ruybalid finished second to University of Texas El Paso’s national qualifier, Elkana Rutich. The Aggies won their home invitational.

Ruybalid finished 43rd at the regional meet as the Aggies tumbled to 12th out of 17 teams.

Ruybalid is excited about the Aggies’ chances in 2012. NMSU has all of their top four runners returning, and Utah State loses their top tow runners. The Aggies have lost to Utah State the last two years at the WAC championships.

“Next season will be my final season at NMSU, so I would like it to be my best,” said the younger Ruybalid brother. “I feel that this past season has given me the confidence that I need to run well next season. I just need to develop a strong base over the summer.”

NMSU does not have a full track and field team, but has scheduled several events this spring. Ruybalid feels that his participation in the 5K races will help his conditioning for the cross country season. He hopes to post a time under 14:30 this spring.

“Next cross country season, I would love to be top-25 at regionals, which would give me a shot at qualifying for nationals,” said Ruybalid. “Qualifying for nationals is so hard at the D1 level, so I would be honored just to qualify.”

Ruybalid is studying Civil Engineering at NMSU and wants to continue running after his college career.

He would like to coach high school cross country after college, depending on how it would fit with his engineering work.

Ian Ruybalid,  New Mexico State

After being the cornerstone of the team for the first two seasons at New Mexico State, Ian saw brother Jonah and two other Aggie harriers move in front of him, after a stress fracture made 2010-11 a medical redshirt year for him.

“The team did pretty decent, but this past season was awful for me individually,” said Ruybalid.

“There were a lot of factors that played into me not having a good season individually, but I’ve learned to put the past behind me and I’m really looking forward to this upcoming year of running in 2012.”

Improving his position on the team is the key goal for the coming season for the 2008 Los Lunas High School graduate.

Ruybalid said, “I hope to get my top spot back on my team and to set some personal records and mix it up again with the best guys out there in the region, and even the nation.”

Ruybalid finished 19th at the WAC championships and 58th in the regional race. He did place third at the Kachina Classic in Las Cruces, finishing just 2.3 seconds behind brother Jonah.

The competition between the two brothers should help the team get better for 2012.

Ruybalid said, “I think that once I start running to the level that I know I’m supposed to be at that will just help the team out even more too.”

As a Los Lunas senior, Ruybalid led the Tigers to a District 5-5A championship. He was an all-district runner both as a junior and senior, and Ruybalid was an all-state selection his senior season after placing fourth at the state championships.

Ian credits coach LLHS coach Larry Padilla for a lot of his success.

“Coach Padilla was an awesome coach for me in high school and I think he did really well with preparing me to run at the college level,” said Ruybalid.

The senior is studying Kinesiology at NMSU and hopes to go into physical therapy or occupational therapy school after graduation.

Justin Lueras, N.M. Highlands

Submitted photo: New Mexico highlands’ Justin Lueras passes a Lubbock Christian runner at the Texas Tech Invite last September. The 2010 Los Lunas High graduate finished seventh overall and helped the Cowboys upset host Texas Tech, as NMHU won the prestigious cross country meet.

The season started well for the nationally ranked New Mexico Highlands harriers but it ended just short of making nationals as the Cowboys placed seventh with the top six qualifiers going on to the NCAA Division II Championships.

Lueras was part of the early success for the Cowboys as he finished seventh in the Texas Tech Open. Highlands upset host Texas Tech and 10 other schools to take the team title. The team finished second at the Oklahoma State University Jamboree in the college division, with Lueras finishing ninth.

“I am very pleased with the success we had this year as a team and how I competed,” said Lueras. “It’s been an exceptionally productive year for me as a sophomore at N.M. Highlands University, not only as a cross country athlete, but as a college student.”

Lueras is studying forestry and is a 2010 graduate of Los Lunas High School.

Lueras said, “This year I was awarded an internship/scholarship with the U.S. Forest Service and will begin my service this summer. Where this job will take me, only God knows!”

Lueras finished 55th in the regional meet and the Cowboys missed going to nationals by 38 seconds.

New Mexico Highlands returns four of their top five runners next season and expectations are high.

“Making all-conference next season will definitely be a priority on my list of things to do, and I am looking forward to training with my teammates, as we are all hungry for success and willing to go the distance in 2012,” said Lueras, who missed making the RMAC team by two seconds last season.

Patrick Lueras, Eastern N.M.

It was a year of firsts for Eastern New Mexico University’s cross country program. The result of all of the success for Lueras meant a Lone Star Conference championship ring, which he will receive sometime this spring.

The Greyhounds won the conference championship, placed first at regionals, and went to the Division II NCAA Championships in Spokane, Wash., where they placed 15th. Lueras ran a time of 34:40.1 to finish 152nd.

Lueras outlined the team’s accomplishments, saying, “Under coach Michael Harney’s direction, our team finished first at every meet this year except for the Oklahoma State Jamboree, where we finished ninth in the Division I University men’s race.”

The 2009 graduate of Los Lunas High School is majoring in History with a secondary education certificate.

Eastern N.M. will move into a tougher region this upcoming cross country season, but Lueras is happy because it will be in the same region as Highlands, where his brother Justin runs.

Lueras said, 2011 “will be remembered as the most successful cross country season in Greyhound history, and I am thankful that I was a part of it. It feels great to be a Greyhound.”

Josh Garcia, N.M. Highlands

The 2008 Belen High graduate participated in the nationally-ranked NCAA Division II New Mexico Highlands program, running in five events for the Cowboys during the 2011 season.

Garcia posted his best time of the season at the Oklahoma State University Jamboree, as Highlands won the college division. Garcia ran a 28:51.41 over the 8K course to finish 129th overall and post the 10th best time for the Cowboys.

He placed 78th in the Texas Tech Invite where the Cowboys took home the team trophy over several Division I schools, including the host Red Raiders. Garcia’s time did not figure in the team scoring.

At the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference Championships, Garcia finished 66th overall and ran the eighth fastest time for the New Mexico Highlands team. He did not compete in the South Central Regional meet.


-- Email the author at mstearns@news-bulletin.com.