The sights and sounds of the New Mexico State Track and Field Championships are a fitting end to a season of outdoor sport that itself can be a major challenge in Northern New Mexico.
The blast of the starter's gun, the grunts and groans from athletes in motion, the timely reminders from the public address announcer about upcoming races and field events and the spotty roars from fans sitting in different sections of the grandstands means that one's head is in constant swivel mode. Not to mention, the strongest, fastest and sharpest athletes from every corner of the state are on full display and are prepared to compete against multiple foes: gravity, time, distance, weather, other athletes, state records, hunger and fatigue.
And while there were no state champions from the two Taos County schools - individual or team - the output by athletes from Questa and Peñasco at the state meet May 4-5 were noteworthy and produced a nice cache of surprises.
For the final time, the small schools state meet consisted of three divisions: Class A, 2A and 3A. Due to contraction within the New Mexico Activities Association that will take place in the upcoming 2018-19 season, there will no longer be six divisions that can be evenly divided into two groups of three classes at each weekend's competition. Next year, as was the case in 2014, the Class A and 2A state meet will take place on the first weekend in May. State track for 3A-5A will occur on the second weekend in May.
On the podium
Garnering the first points of the weekend for the Lady Cats was thrower Larissa Passino, who placed third in the girl's discus with a distance of 92 feet, 11 inches. The senior has been competing in this event for the past three years and had yet to muster a top-six finish until this season. Her dramatic improvement was demonstrated in each successive year as she increased her throwing distance significantly during the three state competitions.
In 2016, Passino's best attempt traveled 65 feet, 3 inches for a 14th place finish. Then in 2017 - a break-out year for her - Passino placed eighth with a throw of 84 feet, 0 inches. This year's state throw, which traveled nearly nine feet farther, earned four team points for Questa and represented one of only two individuals with points in the entire meet. It was the first time in the senior's track and field career that her effort afforded a placement on the podium.
Joining Passino was Anastacia Gonzalez, who cleared 7 feet, 0 inches in the pole vault for a fifth place and two additional team points.
The Lady Cats also acquired points from two sixth-place showings in the girls 4x100 and 4x200-meter relays. Both teams, made up of Leah Martinez, Kiana Passino, Christina Cisneros and AnnaMarie Sanchez were awarded one point for each of their races as they crossed the finish line in 53.33 seconds and 1:56.00, respectively.
The Lady Cats tied with Jemez Valley for 13th place as a team. Winning the class 2A team title for the second consecutive year were the Cloudcroft Lady Bears (66 points) followed by the Hagerman Lady Bobcats (64) in second and the Logan Lady Longhorns (60) in third. Rounding out the top twelve teams ahead of Questa were as follows: Fort Sumner Vixens (58), Gateway Christian Lady Warriors (38), Escalante Lady Lobos (32) Jal Lady Panthers (22), Mountainair Lady Mustangs (18), Dora Lady Coyotes (15), Mesa Vista Lady Trojans (14), Ramah Lady Mustangs (12) and Peñasco Lady Panthers (9).
On the boy's side, the Wildcats continued to improve their team ranking by jumping up one spot from last year's 11th place finish (11 points), landing in 10th place with 10 total points this year, gained in two relay races.
Questa landed its largest haul of points from the 1,600-meter sprint medley team, who placed third with a time of 3:57.23. The team consisted of Isaac Martinez and Gabriel Hernandez, who ran the two 200-meter sprint segments, Miguel Romero, who handled the 400-meter portion, and Derek Vialpando, who anchored the team with the final 800-meter leg.
Questa earned the remaining four points from the 4x200-meter relay team, who placed fourth with a time of 1:39.00. Martinez, Hernandez, Jonathan Rivera and Romero made up the squad that finished squarely in the middle of a cluster of teams who crossed the finish line within one-second of each other.
The Peñasco Lady Panthers acquired all their team points from Maricela MacAuley, who finished third (four points) in the 1,600-meter run with a time of 5:51.77 - barely nudged out of the second spot by a mere seven one-hundreths of a second by Teghan Copeland from Fort Sumner, who crossed the finish line at 5:51.70. The eighth-grader's best race, however, was the 3,200-meter run where she garnered second place (five points) with a time of 12:51.78.
The Peñasco boys team, made up of just two state qualifiers, each contributed to the total haul of five points. Matt Lopez provided the biggest surprise of the meet by coming in third overall in the javelin with a personal best throw of 142 feet, 8 inches.
His previous best distance was 129 feet, six inches; however, Lopez qualified for this event by placing first at the district meet in Questa April 28. Gilbert "Gilly" Valdez pumped in the other point with a sixth-place finish in the 3,200-meter run with a time of 10:25.01 - his personal best.
With the closing of the state games, so closes the latest chapter in the sports history books of both Questa and Peñasco High School's athletic teams.
Until the next campaign. . . .