ALBUQUERQUE – For 17 events and 1,590 meters, it was Santa Fe High’s to lose.
It was in 10 meters.
Despite setting five state records during the Class AAAA State Track and Field Championships and holding a 75-49 lead on defending state champion Aztec with four events left, the Santa Fe High girls saw a blue trophy slip away that would have capped quite the send-off for the school as it ventures into Class AAAAAA in the fall.
Instead, it was Aztec that walked away with something blue — a second state title after scoring 29 points in a frantic final hour to win the AAAA team title by a 78-77 margin on Saturday afternoon.
When Emma Thompson couldn’t hold off Piedra Vista’s Cassandra Crowell’s charge in the final 100 meters of the 1,600-meter relay — Crowell caught and passed Thompson just 10 meters from the finish — the Demonettes fell to sixth place in the final event of the day. They needed to place fifth, though, to share a tie with Aztec and the state title as well.
Instead, a disappointed group saw their dreams of a third state team championship for the school in its final year in AAAA (Santa Fe High had hardware in girls basketball and cheerleading) come to a heart-breaking end. It wasn’t for a lack of effort on Santa Fe High’s part, even as the realization of a missed opportunity sank in after so much promise.
“You see, she already had a 400 today,” said junior Kayla Herrera, who ran the second leg of the 1,600 relay, as she motioned to Alicia Pacheco, the third runner.
“She had a triple,” Herrera said of Thompson, who ran the 400 leg of the medley relay, pole vaulted into a sixth-place finish right after that and then anchored the 1,600 to end the day.
“She had the 100 and the 300 hurdles,” Herrera said about Madeline Weibe, who led off the final race.
“I mean, their legs are already kinda dead, and they said, ‘Let’s go out with a bang.’ We didn’t get all that we wanted, but we still placed, and that was one of our goals today.”
For Santa Fe High head coach Peter Graham, he got to see this team do something no other girls team has done during his 20-plus years of coaching: bring home a trophy. The second-place finish represents the best finish of a Santa Fe High team during his tenure, and tied the 1992 boys team for the best showing for the program in his time.
He wasn’t about to let what might have been take away from what was a momentous occasion.
“Losing by a point is rough,” Graham said. “But, at the same time, to come from sixth place last year to one point two years ago, it is very satisfying to me to have success. I know it very bittersweet for the kids, that they got a podium trophy that wasn’t the one they wanted.”
Almost everything broke the Demonettes’ way until the very end. The 400 relay team set the AAAA record with a time of 48.43 seconds, all-world sprinter Tiffany Garcia set or tied state records in the 100 (12.11), 200 (24.17 on Friday) and 400 (55.58) as well as helped the 800 relay obliterate the 800 relay mark.
A day after setting the new standard of 1:44.17, Demonette sprinter Akeisha Ayanniyi said the team would “shatter” that mark. Boy, did they.
The quartet of Garcia, Samantha Woodman, Shantal Roybal and Akeisha Ayanniyi shaved 2.15 seconds off its time for a 1:42.02 mark. The performance was beyond what any of them thought they would do. Ayanniyi was so shocked she flung the remaining water out of her cup when she saw the time.
“I thought maybe low 43s,” Woodman said. “I never thought we’d do that. I was not thinking that.”
Garcia, though, was thinking all about running in the mid-50s for her 400 run. After tying the record in the 100 and admitting she held back in the process, she let it all out in her signature event. Continuing the theme of obliteration, Garcia was 2.92 seconds faster than runner-up Kelsey Owens from Albuquerque St. Pius X.
After her run, she raced over to her dad, Joseph Garcia, who is also her personal trainer, and hugged him in celebration of her transformation into the top sprinter in the state, regardless of class. A year ago, she was a part of a winning 800 relay and took third in the 400, which seems like another time for Garcia.
“It’s unreal,” Garcia said. “It feels so good right now. I wanna cry right now.”
For Joseph Garcia, it cemented the adage of hard work helping to overcome obstacles.
“I am elated, I couldn’t be prouder of her,” Joseph Garcia said. “She’s done super well and put in a lot of hard work and dedication, and it shows.”
It was the fitting ending for Los Alamos distance runner Colin Hemez, who followed a 3,200 win on Friday with a 1,600 victory. Hemez outkicked Kevin Wyss yet again over the final 300 meters as the two swapped the lead with about 200 meters to go before Hemez bolted into first in a time of 4:24.33.
He led a spirited meet-ending charge by the Hilltoppers, who came within a half-point of taking second place on the boys side over Albuquerque Academy. They ended the meet with a thrilling win in the 1,600 relay, beating Farmington by a 3:24.03-3:24.04 margin to almost overtake the Chargers.
Instead, they ended up taking third with 50.5 points in Larry Baca’s return as head coach. Baca resigned in 2010, mainly to take some time away from a job that was eating at him. The sabbatical gave him a renewed perspective.
“I’ve learned to enjoy the meets more,” Baca said. “I was overstressed, and I did it to myself. I was burning the candle at both ends. So long story short, the time off did some good and I got rejuvenated. The original plan was to do it for a year or two, but now, I’m gonna do it until it’s no longer fun.”
But at the end of the day, even Baca’s thoughts turned to Santa Fe High and his now former District 2AAAA coaching foe.
“I wish they could have done it,” Baca said. “Dog gonnit.”
If only Santa Fe High had 10 more meters left in its tank …