In the Running

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Quick moves to the front nearly produced championship results for a pair of Belen runners at the Class 4A State Cross Country Championship meet Saturday.

Eagle runners Arena Lewis and Aaron Romero-Valenzuela both came out of the gate fast and led for most of their respective 5 kilometer races, but both were passed in the final stages, forcing both to settle for second place.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: BELEN’S AARON ROMERO-VALENZUELA (596) leads the pack, which includes teammate Jared Garcia (591) during the Class Boys 4A Cross Country Championship meet in Rio Rancho Saturday. Valenzuela-Romero finished second in the meet while Garcia finished fourth as both earned All-State honors and led the Eagles to a fifth-place finish in the team competition.

Romero-Valenzuela and teammate Jared Garcia finished in the top four of the boys division, leading Belen to fifth-place with 173 points.

Lewis, whose time of 18:29.95 was the swiftest of her season, was joined in the top 10 by Valencia’s Carisma Lovato and Camila Orozco, who finished sixth and seventh, to lead the Jaguar girls, who were fresh off winning their first-ever District 6-4A title last weekend.

The Valencia girls finished in seventh place with 183 points while Los Lunas finished 10th in the 16-team field with 296 points.

Belen junior Aaron Romero Valenzuela took the lead about a quarter into Saturday’s race and led until the final stages of the race on the campus of Rio Rancho High School.

The Eagles’ junior was eventually overtaken by Los Alamos’ Colin Hemez, who took first with a time of 15:54.40 to help the Hilltoppers win the team title.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: VALENCIA HIGH RUNNER Camila Orozco (469) and teammate Carisma Lovato (466) run in the lead pack at the Class 4A Girls Cross Country Championship meet at Rio Rancho High School Saturday. The two finished seventh and sixth, respectively, earned All-State honors in leading the Jaguar girls to a seventh-place finish.

Romero-Valenzuela came in just a shade behind Hemez with a time of 15:56.50 to take second while BHS junior Jared Garcia, finished fourth with a time of 16:06.60.

“I was waiting to see what the pace would be and it was a little slow. So I took a chance and got a burst,” Valenzuela-Romero said. “I just lost it around the solar panels and Colin got past me. It was a good race. We did really well as a team. We ran a good race.”

Belen senior Manuel Guererro was the next fastest finisher with a time of 17:44.90, good for 31st place. Eagles Brian Baldonado and Krystian Gomez finished 59th and 77th, to round out the scoring times.

Kyle Garcia and Jesse Holder finished the race 79th and 89th, respectively, for Belen, which finished third in last week’s District 6-4A meet.

“We really came together as a team at the end of the season,” said Garcia. “Our pack times improved from race to race. It just shows that the work we put in paid off.”

The Eagles outperformed Gallup Miyamura, which took second in the district meet. District champs Gallup finished fourth with 147 points.

In his first state meet, Los Lunas’ lone representative, freshman Nate Candelaria, finished 44th in the field of 98 runners with a time of 18:09.55.

Kenn Rodriguez-News-Bulletin photo: ARENA LEWIS of Belen High finished second Saturday in the Class 4A Girls State Cross Country Championship meet.

“We were real pleased,” said LLHS coach Larry Padilla of Candelaria’s finish. “He had a respectable time. We were really happy with it.”

Like her male teammates, Belen sophomore Arena Lewis came away from the starting line swiftly and held the lead over St. Pius X’s Kelli Reagan for most of Saturday’s race.

But Reagan, the favorite coming into the meet, passed Lewis in the final few thousand meters to claim the top spot with a time of 18:23.50 in one of the fastest 4A races on record.

“We had a little battle out back and she had a little surge and I couldn’t catch her,” Lewis said. “I knew to look out for (Reagan), so I just focused on her. We planned on matching surges. But she caught me. But I’m happy. I just wanted to finish higher than third, like I did in my eighth-grade year.”

While Lewis and Reagan dueled out front, Valencia runners Carisma Lovato and Camila Orozco dueled with the lead pack for spots in the top 10.

Orozco was the lead runner for the Jaguars for much of the race, but Lovato passed her teammate in the final stages of the race to claim seventh. Orzoco, running her first state meet as an eighth-grader, finished eighth.

“It was my strategy to start off slower and build up, but I think I was off pace from where I wanted to be,” Lovato said. “I’m really proud of us as a team. We came out and worked together. I’m so proud of my team.”

The seventh-place finish came on the heels of the girls’ first district title the week before, which Orozoco said the team was still basking in the glow of the title.

“We were very excited about it,” she said. “We worked hard all season and it was a great that we met our goal.

Corina Baca (42nd), Sara Lopez (57th) and Shelby Lucero (71st) were the next-best finishers for Valencia, with Consuelo Lovato and Shay Gardner finishing in 73rd and 93, respectively.

Los Lunas freshman Keilee Kinghorn again paced the Tigers, finishing 32nd with a time of 21:06.95 while fellow freshman Gloria Zuni finished 41st with a time of 21:35.95. Bethany Hammon (70th), Victoria Abeyta (74th) and Shelby Kinghorn (79th) all finished close while Eve Lovato finished 86th.

“It was pretty awesome,” Zuni said of the race. “It was good to come out and run as a team.”

“It felt good to see how we’ve improved as a team,” said Kinghorn. “It’s something we can improve on for next year.”

The Tigers’ final score was hampered by the loss of Vivian Lueras, who was tripped on the first hill and dropped out of the race, according to Padilla. Lueras, a junior, suffered only minor injuries, Padilla said.