Long distance Warriors journey north

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Near the end of the 2011-12 school year, Socorro cross country head coach Steven Montoya was working on putting together a meet schedule for his 2012 team.

He had always though it would be a cool idea to leave the state. Attending the same meets year after year and seeing the same people can get old.

“There was a couple of meets I was interested in, and it just so happens Adams State was on a perfect weekend,” he said. “It wasn’t too far, and it’s the one that worked out.”

So last Friday, Montoya loaded 13 of his varsity runners on a bus and headed north to Alamosa, Colo., for the Joe Vigil Invite.

It was a good day for the Warriors. Very rarely does the cross country team land the privilege of leaving school early on a Friday, as it usually saves traveling for the morning of their competitions.

“The kids like that. They feel important,” Montoya said.

And all of his kids ran like they were very important on Saturday morning at Cattails Golf Course, as all 13 ran a season personal record and eight of them ran an all-time personal best on the five kilometer course.

“The team did great, boys and girls,” Montoya said. “They all picked it up. They were all ready to race.”

The girls were paced by Julie Aster, who placed 36th with a total time of 22 minutes, 2 seconds. Leah Guengerich ran a 23:38, good enough for 73rd place and Starr Padilla finished in 98th with a time of 25:05.

The star for Socorro last weekend though may have been Jewel Pakala, who knocked a whopping six minutes off her personal record. She finished the run in 31:47.

“It’s cool. It’s cool to be a part of,” Montoya said.

“Running is not all about beating another person. It’s about not listening to the little voice inside your head telling you to slow down. You have to learn how to do that if you want to run a (personal record).”

The girls finished the meet in 13th place out of 18 teams.

On the boys side, Sierra Cahill took advantage of the cool Colorado temperatures and finished the course in 17:45, good enough for 25th place. Senior captain Dylan Gallegos conquered the run in 18:50, landing him in 68th place while James Howell placed 79th, completing his run in 18:59. The boys placed 14th out of 24 teams.

While Montoya continually reiterated to his team that the sole reason it went to Adams State was to run and run fast, those who were fortunate to make the trip did so under the eye of a coach who believes that type of privilege needs to be earned.

Montoya had raised enough funds to take the whole team, but he did it in order to encourage participation and competition.

“If everyone gets to go, there’s no competition. And I need them to get better,” he said. The top six varsity runners made the journey, and the seventh was the one who attended the most summer workouts.

“They want to achieve things. That’s the kind of kids I have,” Montoya said.

“I don’t want them to back down from a challenge and I want them to accomplish things.”

In addition to running a new race in a new place against stiff competition from both in-state and out-of-state, Socorro’s kids had the chance to eyeball a little portion of a quality university as well.

For example, Gallegos is interested in possibly running at Adams State after he graduates, and he got to pick the brain of two former Socorro athletes, Janelle Higgs and Nicole Engler, who already attend the school. “Definitely for my seniors where college is around the corner, they got to see a campus,” Montoya said.

Now on the horizon for Socorro is the Socorro Stampede, which will be run here on Sept. 22.

“The Stampede is going to be a really competitive race,” Montoya said. “If you’re interested in running, it’ll be a fun race to watch.”

Two nationally ranked teams in Cleveland (Albuquerque) and Los Alamos will be competing in the run, and Montoya expects 10 teams in all.

For Socorro, it will all about the other Warriors due not too far southeast of here.

“We want to see how we stack up against Ruidoso,” Montoya said.

“I hope our kids have a little bit of an attitude about it. It’s our home course. Maybe that will be a little bit of an advantage.”