By George Morse
Pojoaque Cross Country Aims For Another Trip To State
The Pojoaque Valley High School cross country team runs through the hills and arroyos that surround the school in Jacona. For 38 years, the man at the helm of that team has been Coach Alan Lockridge. Always one to shy away from the spotlight, Lockridge prefers to have his team do the talking both literally and figuratively.
“They’re the ones who do the work,” he said.
As he follows the team through those same hills and arroyos they practice in, he does take a moment to express how he feels about this year’s team of boys and girls .
“I really, really love the attitude,” Lockridge said. “They listen. They’re trying. There doesn’t seem to be any drama.”
Lockridge really wasn’t sure what to expect this season. Both his girls team and his boys team had been able to advance to state last season out of a tough District 2-4A. Class 4A was bigger and stronger last season after being expanded by the New Mexico Activities Association. The boys finished a respectable seventh overall at state, while the girls took 13th place.
The Elks lost top runner John Hall, who was ninth overall at state last year to graduation. He now competes for New Mexico Highlands University.
Pojoaque returns a solid senior in Joseph Gutierrez who ran at state last year. A runner since the seventh grade, Gutierrez was 40th overall at state last season. He now steps into a leadership role.
“It’s about bringing everybody together,” Gutierrez said. “Have a good season. Push each other to be the best we can be. Train hard.”
He has been running since the seventh grade and knows the personal benefits of being a cross country athlete.
“Best shape I’ve ever been in in my life,” Gutierrez said.
Gutierrez will have some unexpected company from a pair of classmates who will return to the team for their senior year. Donovan Lujan, who was on Pojoaque’s varsity team two years ago at state, moved back from Washington State for his final season. Dylan Romero, a runner as an eighth-grader, returns after moving down the hill from Los Alamos. Picking up a pair of unexpected seniors is a gift Lockridge appreciates.
Leading the girls team will be two seniors. Michaela Martinez and Mia Vigil. Both know the importance of sticking with a teammate and running as a pack. Martinez finished 45th overall at state and Vigil was seven seconds behind her in 48th place last season. Martinez began running as an eighth-grader and Vigil as a freshman.
“Michaela is everything you want as a leader,” Lockridge said.
Martinez is the daughter of assistant coaches Randy and Gloria Martinez.
“Just encouraging the team to run with us and building relationships with them,” Martinez said. “Run as a pack. Make it to state so they can have that experience. Do the best you can. Be a good role model.”
Vigil has enjoyed the social aspect of being an athlete and will miss it.
‘It’s exciting but also kind of scary,” she said. “You’re going to move on after this and say goodbye to everyone. In three years I’ve enjoyed meeting new people, coaches and everyone. We have a lot of younger girls. We want them to stay close to where we are so they can help the team.”
Also returning for the boys will be Zach Hall, John’s younger brother who will be extra-motivated to run again at state. He suffered a late season injury last year and couldn’t compete at state after running at state as a freshman and an eighth-grader.
Pojoaque junior Santiago Romero was Pojoaque’s second runner last year at state, coming in 27th overall. A varsity runner and state participant since the eighth grade, Romero is optimistic about the upcoming season.
“We’re going to have a good team this year,” he said. “Just do our best and pack in as tight as we can.”
The Elkettes will return two more runners who ran at state last season. Sophomore Rayannon Velarde and freshman Ayla Garcia will be joined by a bunch of younger runners. It will be later during the season when some of them will emerge as members of the varsity.
Pojoaque will host a scrimmage Aug. 24 at Pojoaque. Santa Fe Indian School will be among the participants. The first scheduled official meet will be Aug. 31 at Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho.