When you win twin state titles, lots of athletes have come up big for you, but maybe none came up bigger for Alamosa than Tara Sowards. Photo by Alan Versaw.
In the coaching career of Larry Zaragoza, now pushing 40 years, he has accomplished lots of things. But never in all those previous years have his teams swept the cross country state titles.
There was no shortage of people expecting Alamosa to win the 3A boys title, and the guys wasted little time nailing that title down. Frontier Academy was expected to be the toughest nut for Alamosa to crack, but the Mean Moose dispensed with the nutcracker and brought a hammer.
The hammer stuck six big blows--Isaiah DeLaCerda in seventh, Jericho Ulibarri (just missing joining DeLaCerda on the podium) in 11th, Caleb Palmer in 12th, Miguel Baltazar in 17th, Tanner Martin in 18th, and Caleb Berlinger in 19th. In the entire time those blows were hitting their appointed targets, only Josiah Davis and Isaiah Remington of Frontier Academy were able to cross the finish line.
The 3A boys battle bout wasn't nearly as exciting as the pre race hype made it out to be. This one was more of a beatdown than a showdown.
Beatdown though it may have been, it was still a setup act. The race that would take everyone's breath away came two hours later.
Salida was the favored team going into the 3A girls race, but things started coming unraveled at the starting line. A long series of events that involved the Salida girls, coach Kenny Wilcox, and the officials delayed the start of the race six full minutes beyond its scheduled departure. At issue was a uniform irregularity and Salida was ultimately only allowed to field five runners, corresponding with the count of matching uniforms Salida had at the starting line. It's easy to speculate that, once the ordeal had spent its initial energy, Salida came to the starting line a bit frazzled.
But, Salida's main threat for the team title was supposed to be Kent Denver. At no point in the race did Salida seem in immiment danger of falling to the Sun Devils.
Today, however, the Sun Devils weren't the only ones capable of burning Salida. That distinction belonged to Alamosa, and such was the distribution of runners that the Spartans probably never quite realized what was happening with Alamosa, at least not while out on the course.
Sydney Fesenmeyer took her customary place at the front of the Spartan pack and never saw a hint of Mean Moose maroon until the very last stages of the race. The intrigue was happening entirely behind Fesenmeyer. The intrigue got serious when Alamosa freshman Tara Sowards slipped by Salida's Taryn Ceglowski. It grew by leaps and bounds when Sowards nipped Fesenmeyer at the finish line.
But Sowards' sixth was nevertheless answered by Fesenmeyer's seventh and Ceglowski's ninth. Salida still appeared to have the upper hand. At least it seemed that way until Brianna Corona crossed in 19th and Emily Sowards in 29th.
Salida responded with Bari Beasley and Olivia Lowe sandwiching Alamosa's Paige DeGolyer in places 33, 34, 35. At this point, no observer could have done the team scoring calculus, complete with extracting non team scoring runners, but it was evident nevertheless that things would come down to the fifth runner for each team.
And it was at position #5 that Alamosa prevailed, when Brittany Lopez beat Salida's Lauren McDonald by three places. With non-scoring runners removed, Alamosa's scoring total stood at 91, and Salida's at 95.
Salida's bid for a repeat state championship had come up painfully short.
Alamosa's title sweep may rank as the top team story accomplishment of the day. The Mean Moose girls were a dark horse, at best, and appeared to have a bit too much traffic ahead of them to win a state team title. Appearances can be deceiving.
3A individual titles went to Lily Tomasula-Martin, who finally broke the combined challenge of Hailey Swirbul and Julia Jaschke very late in the race, and to Ben Butler, who ran one of the day's top times at 16:18.2, a little over 20 seconds ahead of Taylor Stack's second-place finish. Fountain Valley's Dominic Carrese outpaced Ben Espinola and Jake Rogers for third.
If you're wondering about Alamosa for next year, the boys lose only Jericho Ulibarri and Tanner Martin. The girls lose only Brianna Corona. The legacy of the 2014 Alamosa cross country will, evidently, have a few more years to run its course.