Saturday, July 20, 2024

Future looks bright: Gallup Bengals claim team titles at district championships

Future looks bright: Gallup Bengals claim team titles at district championships

By Santiago Ramos Jr.
Special to the Times

GALLUP – The Gallup boys and girls grabbed top team honors during Saturday morning’s District 1-4A cross country meet held at Red Rock Park.

“It’s been a very long time since Gallup High school has had both boys and girls as District 1-4A champions, so this was a breath of fresh air knowing what we are capable of,” Gallup head coach Kyle Benally said. “We will be here for a while, and we look forward to the future of cross country.”

Benally feels that both teams can get on the podium at state.

“We, as Gallup High School cross country, have a chance to get on the podium for both squads. But we are there to compete in search of becoming the best team we can be.”

The top three district teams in the boys’ and girls’ standings qualified for state along with the top three non-qualifying runners for this weekend’s New Mexico State Cross Country Championships that will again be hosted at Albuquerque Academy High School on Saturday morning.

The 3A boys race will kick off the state meet at 9 a.m. followed by the 3A girls at 9:45 a.m. The 5A boys race will be at 10:50 a.m. followed by the 5A girls at 11:35 a.m.

The A-2A boys will be at 12:40 p.m. followed by the A-2A girls at 1:25 p.m. The 4A boys will be at 2:30 p.m. followed by the 4A girls at 3:15 p.m.

Awards will be awarded immediately after each race.

In the boys division, meet host Gallup took first with 37 points with Kirtland Central second (61) and Miyamura third (70). Shiprock was next (108) followed by Bloomfield (118) and Aztec (123).

Also qualifying individually for state from non-qualifying teams were Shiprock freshman Kaden Lapahie, Aztec junior Noah Higgins and Bloomfield junior Jayvn Frank.

In the girls division, Gallup topped the field in first place with 44 points with Kirtland Central second (53) and Shiprock third (58). Miyamura was next (71) with Bloomfield (133). Aztec was a non-scoring team with two runners.

Also qualifying for state from non-qualifying teams were Miyamura senior Lorianna Piestewa, Miyamura sophomore Shelby McCray and Aztec sophomore Jazzlyn Gomez.

Gallup head coach Kyle Benally said he felt his teams had the capability to be the district’s top teams heading into state.

“For the entire team we knew what we were capable of from the beginning of the season,” Benally said. “I believed that was the end goal within our district, was the district title coming home to Gallup High School.”

Boys

Gallup senior standout Theodore Roundface was pushed at the end of the tough, sandy 5,000-meter race at Red Rock Park.

Roundface sprinted to a winning time of 17:41 over 52 other harriers with district rival Dathan Esson of Kirtland Central a close second at 17:49.

Roundface said he felt good during the district race.

“I felt pretty good,” Roundface said. “I’m familiar with this course, been working on it all season so got to know the hard spots. I felt real comfortable. I was kind of in my own zone. You feel comfortable in your home.

“This one race I was really focused on feeling good for this race. My start was pretty good. I went out with Dathan (Esson). He really helped me. He was the one pushing me and made it a lot of fun. Winning district was special especially with all the supporters I had, really helped out. I didn’t want to let anybody down so I really went for it.”

Winning the Academy Extragazanza two weeks ago where the state meet will be held this Saturday, Roundface said was a big confidence booster.

“That was a big confidence boost,” said Roundface who was ninth at state last year. “I really like that course with a lot of gravel. Again, I feel really comfortable. I have to be careful not to lose that top spot and stay connected with the lead pack and when the time is right, make my move. I feel like I will do pretty good at state especially with the training. I feel fresh. I feel like I have my energy. I’m peaking at the right time and it’s where I want to be.”

Esson finished second behind Roundface at Academy.

Gallup’s Sage Livingston was a close third (17:50) followed by Shiprock’s Kaden Lapahie fourth (17:59) and Miyamura’s Luke James fifth (18:06).

By winning the district title, Roundface showed that he will be one of the favorites for the state meet this weekend.

“He is more than capable of leaving with the boys individual state champion,” the Bengals coach said. “He has worked diligently in ways to improve his running. He is indeed a student of the game that will be showcased at the state championships.”

Benally also has high hopes for Livingston.

“Sage Livingston has improved tremendously throughout this season,” Benally said. “He is coming into his own this year and has shown he will be the leader for the next couple of years. He will be one of the names to watch for in the years to come.

“For the boys, we’ve had such a strong team this year, we had to overcome some obstacles along the way, but we have closed the gaps that we needed to make us a contender,” Benally said.

Rounding out the top 10 were Raymond Hunt of Kirtland Central sixth (18:16), Dwight Spencer of Gallup seventh (18:40), Noah Higgins of Aztec eighth (18:42), Landon Begay of Gallup ninth (18:57) and Ethan Billey of Kirtland Central 10th (19:05).

Gallup’s fifth runner, Bryan Begay placed 17th (19:31).

Girls

Veteran Miyamura senior Lorianna Piestewa flashed her winning competitive style as she topped the 42 other harriers, sprinting to a winning time of 20:49 over the 5,000-meter course at Red Rock Park and winning her first district title.

Piestewa said she had a slow start.

“The beginning I felt a little slow but that was because of the sand,” Piestewa said. “But throughout the middle of the race when we hit the road, I started to pick up my speed and I wanted to get that distance between me and the second runner further. And the third mile I just pushed it as far as I could. It was all guts from there. The sand always takes it out of me. But it was a lot of fun, but I think I pushed pretty hard.”

Claiming her first district title in five years was special, Piestewa said.

“I broke my foot last year so I didn’t run at districts,” Piestewa said. “I took second at districts my eighth grade, ninth grade and sophomore years. I took second every time. I finally won. I am absolutely so happy right now. I’ve been chasing this goal for a really long time. My eighth grade year I barely lost it by a mila-second. But this year I finally got it. I’ve always done good here.”

Competing at the flat Academy course, where state will be held Saturday, two weeks ago, Piestewa finished 10th.

“Running at Academy will be different,” said Piestewa who finished fifth at state as an eighth grader followed by state finishes of 10th and 11th. “I will run the best I can ‘cause this will be the last time at state. I’m hoping to medal.”

Gallup freshman Mykeia Vicenti-Wolf, who is half Zuni and half Cherokee, finished a distant second behind Piestewa with a time of 22:00 with Bengal freshman teammate Madison Martinez third with a time of 22:02.

“The start felt nice,” Vicenti-Wolf said. “I kept a good pace. The middle I slowly started picking it up, slowed it down throughout the middle and then I had Shiprock in front of me. I wanted to pass her (Taylor Begay) because we were just going back and forth throughout the race. About two and a half miles I started picking it up and kept that pace all the way through the finish. I kicked it at the flags.”

The sand, Vicenti-Wolf says, was the toughest part of the race.

“The toughest part was definitely the sand. When we practiced here it (the sand) was nice. It wasn’t too bad. But they graded it in, and it made it much more worse and more sandy.”

Shiprock’s Taylor Begay placed fourth (22:13) with Kirtland Central’s Elizabeth Yazzie fifth (22:29).

“Mykeia Vicenti-Wolf and Madison Martinez are extraordinary talents as freshmen girls,” Benally said of his top two freshman runners. “They both feed off one another and both in time will make themselves known. They have extremely bright futures ahead of them in cross country.”

Gallup also had Denayah Wylie place 13th (23:22), Natalie Dixon 14th (23:26) and Tiana Tom 15th (23:27).

Rounding out the top 10 were Shelby McCray of Miyamura sixth (22:38), Jazelle Thompson of Shiprock seventh (22:44), Shineal Nakai of Kirtland Central eighth (22:59), Raylee Nocki of Kirtland Central ninth (23:09) and Sara Mei Tache of Shiprock 10th (23:14).

Benally says he’s excited about his girls team.

“For the girls we were very young and to win the district title at their age, let’s me know what we will have for the future. Although nothing is easy, we have a great group of young girls to lead us into the future.”


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