Gateway’s Megyn Balok competes at the New Mexico Class 1A-2A state cross country meet Saturday in Rio Rancho. (Submitted Photo)
RIO RANCHO — Runners from two Chaves County small schools — Hagerman and Gateway — made it to the podium at Saturday’s state cross country meet in Rio Rancho.
The Bobcats qualified both a boys and girls team for the meet, and while neither team made it to the top three, eighth-grader Cerria Lucero finished sixth out of 77 runners — the highest finish for any local athlete at the meet — while freshman Martin Flores took ninth.
Gateway’s Megyn Balok was just three places behind Lucero, in ninth, and the Lady Bobcats edged the Lady Warriors in the team finish — Hagerman was fifth and Gateway sixth — a reversal of what happened at district.
“Gateway has a great team, but the girls were excited when they found out,” said Hagerman coach Alex Morales.
Lucero also finished behind two Warrior runners at district, which made her state finish so exciting.
“She came out and honestly, nobody expected our team to do that well,” Morales said. “Nobody expected her to do that well. She held her own with these older girls, and so did the Hoppes sisters (Paige, 15th, and Emily, 23rd). They all did great. I’m really proud of them.”
Gateway coach Perry Toles was just as excited about his team.
“You have to consider this is the largest field the AA and A girls have seen in the last five years, since we’ve been competing,” he said. “We went from five teams to 12 teams. So I’m excited about that. We ran the best we could. I’m proud of the girls. Maybe not perfect races because we were having some difficulty, but it’s a tough course.”
Lucero was in third for much of the race — dropping back only at the finish.
“I went down the hill too fast and then it got me at the end,” she said. But hearing her name called over the loudspeaker as she kept up with more experienced runners was exciting, she said.
Balok, a runner of few words, was pleased with the Lady Warrior finish.
“We did good,” she said. “We all got good times.”
Gateway eighth grader Faith Bauder improved her time more than a minute from three weeks ago at the Rio Rancho Jamboree, and senior Shelby Toles ran her fastest time at state in the last five years.
“That’s the way you end up a high school cross country career,” said proud coach and father Perry Toles.
The other Gateway senior, Emma Kieninger, finished 34th in 24:15.60, despite not running since she was a freshman.
“She ran a incredible race,” coach Toles said. “That was a really good time for Emma. I’m seeing good in all of this.”
And that team finish was without their No. 1 on the course. Mikayla Fuller missed her last two meets of her high school career with an injury.
In the afternoon races, for a while it looked like the Hagerman boys might make it to the podium as a team, and that was one of the goals Flores had.
“I wanted to do my best out here,” he said. “Kind of keep the team up, trying to get that state championship.”
“He did great,” Morales said. “He set his mind to it and the sky’s the limit for him. He’s going to do great things.”
The ‘Cats missed getting a team trophy by only 34 points — Maxwell High finished third — but Morales said it’s a great start to what could be a big future.
“We do have a young team so we will be back,” he said. “We knew we were top five coming in, so we were hoping for at least a third, but we ended up getting fourth. Things are great.”
And the Bobcats ran with something of a handicap. All five runners also play football, and with a championship berth at stake Friday night (they fell to Fort Sumer in the semifinal match), only Flores sat that game out.
“They got into the hotel about one o’clock, woke up early, had breakfast and now we’re here,” the coach said. “Considering they had a game last night; didn’t get much sleep; they did well. They did their job today.”