Pecos boys win Cross-Country Championship
Laguna-Acoma’s Kenzie Alonzo, right, leads, from left, Pecos’ Julian Garcia, Zuni’s Ryan Bowekaty and Pecos’ Michael Montano on Saturday in the Class 3A boys cross-country race in Rio Rancho. Trailing are Deion Lukee of Laguna-Acoma and Josh DeHerrera of Pecos. James Barron/The New Mexican
Pecos senior Julian Garcia overtook teammate Josh DeHerrera in the final 200 yards to win the individual title during the Class 3A State Boys Cross-Country Championships on Saturday in Rio Rancho. The pair paced the Panthers to a repeat as state champions over Laguna-Acoma. James Barron/The New Mexican
Pecos junior Josh DeHerrera leads the pack in the Class 3A boys cross-country race Saturday heading into the football stadium at Rio Rancho High School. Teammate Julian Garcia overtook DeHerrera in the final 200 yards to win the individual title and the pair led the Panthers to a repeat as 3A champions over Laguna-Acoma. James Barron/The New Mexican
Posted: Saturday, November 5, 2016 8:10 pm | Updated: 12:17 am, Sun Nov 6, 2016.
Pecos boys win Cross-Country Championship By James Barron
The New Mexican The Santa Fe New Mexican
RIO RANCHO — November belongs to the Pecos Panthers.
Patrick Ortiz, the head coach of the Pecos cross-country team, doesn’t really care what happens over the first two months of the season — all that matters is how the Panthers run for one meet in November.
“November is yours,” Ortiz recounted of his chats with his runners through the 2016 season. “Nobody else’s. This is what we train for. We don’t train for August or September or October. This is the time. This is what counts.”
When it came to this November’s Class 3A State Boys Cross-Country Championship at Rio Rancho High School on Saturday morning, Ortiz and the Panthers faithful witnessed the heart of a champion. On a day in which Santa Fe Indian School’s Michael Tenorio finally won the individual title he so craved and the Mesa Vista Trojans easily repeated as 1A/2A champions, the thousands of spectators on hand saw a comeback that can only be described as “Pecosian.”
Trailing Laguna-Acoma and Zuni at the halfway point of the 3A race, the Panthers fought back the way a defending champion does to retain their beloved blue trophy.
Paced by Julian Garcia and Josh DeHerrera’s 1-2 individual finish and buoyed by the frantic rally of No. 5 runner Isaiah Armijo, Pecos beat the Hawks for the second straight year — this time by a 34-43 count. In a race that saw the Panthers, Laguna-Acoma and Zuni take the first 16 spots, every position won or lost was doubly important. And no one’s contribution was as crucial as Armijo’s.
Normally the No. 4 runner in Pecos’ scoring ladder, Armijo struggled as the No. 6 runner, languishing around 17-20th place through the first half of the race. That mimicked the Panthers’ struggles, as they trailed Laguna-Acoma and Zuni at the halfway mark by a 37-42-45 count. Armijo was still in 18th with a half-mile to go when he made the push of a lifetime for the freshman.
He passed Cottonwood Classical Prep’s Tyler Gibson, Zuni’s Jarek Chimoni-Zunie, then Cameron Sanchez and Terrence Lukee of Laguna Acoma. Gaining four spots meant gaining seven points in the standings for the Panthers. For Armijo, that finish meant everything to him.
“It makes me feel that my teammates can trust me now,” Armijo said. “I’m part of the group. They know I’m there, but they’re up front doing their part. They’re not focusing on me, so I have to do that.”
As for the Panthers up front, Garcia and DeHerrera moved from fourth and fifth, respectively, to lead the pack. DeHerrera had the lead with about 200 yards left, but Garcia turned on the speed over that span to beat his teammate for the individual title with a time of 16 minutes, 46.65 seconds. DeHerrera trailed by 1.55 seconds.
Still, the stadium oozed nervous anticipation as the results were tallied. It broke when Rio Rancho cross-country head coach Sal Gonzales, a Pecos graduate and former head coach whose boys team finished second in the 6A race an hour before, raced toward Ortiz shouting, “Thirty-four-[to]-43! Thirty-four-[to]-43!” He even leaped over the fence to embrace Ortiz, who ran for him in the mid-2000s, in an electric congratulation.
“It was heart, pure heart,” Ortiz said.
It was a good day — no, great day — to be a Pecos Panther. Even better than breaking a 17-year drought last year?
“Oh yeah, a lot better,” Garcia said. “It’s the last race of my high school career, and we went out with a bang. The pressure was on, but we got it done.”