JACONA — Michaela Martinez knows enough about the history of cross-country at Pojoaque Valley High School that if Allan Lockridge wants you to do something, there’s probably a good reason behind it.
“Being coached by him for a long time kinda gave me that,” Martinez said. “Just do what he says because he knows what he’s talking about, and he’s shown it in previous years with a bunch of state championships in cross-country. I think we should probably listen to him.”
It makes perfect sense. Lockridge has guided the program to eight boys and girls team titles combined, and helped develop seven individual champions in his 32 years as head coach at the school. It also endeared him to a nickname that he often balks at when spoken, even by the public address announcer while he takes care of the scorebook during basketball season — “The Legend.”
But when the “The Legend” walks around with a spring in his step, a smile on his face and a confidence in his voice that can’t be ignored, you know he’s in a happy place. And he has been most happy this season with both his boys and girls teams.
“It’s the attitude,” Lockridge said. “Anything I ask of these boys and girls, they do it. I don’t care what it is. It’s an amazing bunch because there are no complaints The next week [after a meet], I’ll step it up and challenge them to do something they haven’t done. They’ll go do it, and I’ll say, ‘Do it again.’ ”
While both teams have progressed through the season, it is clear the girls team is coalescing into a unit that could surprise teams in the Class 4A division of the state cross-country championships in November. The Elkettes are lead by senior leaders Martinez and Mia Vigil, but it is the group of underclassmen and eighth graders who are pulling their weight that has Lockridge excited about the future.
Pojoaque won the Laguna Acoma Invitational on Sept. 20 with one of the more consistent performances Lockridge has seen in a while. While the Elkettes had no one in the top 15, their top five runners all finished between 17th (Vigil) and 23rd (eighth grader Jasmine Valdez) and the pack time from the No. 1 runner to No. 5 was a mere 16 seconds.
That performance was followed by another first-place finish at the Capital City Invitational on Sept. 28 with a 56-point performance. While the gap from the one through five was 1:12 at that meet, it was the kind of split that can help a team finish high in the standings — if not win a meet.
“That’s how we’ve been practicing,” Vigil said. “We’re pulling the girls to run with us or encouraging them to run with us. Then they’re like, ‘Oh if I can run with them, then I can run with anybody.’ We kind of just pull them forward.”
What catches Lockridge’s attention even more is how selfless his runners are. He said there is no sense of jealousy or frustration when someone doesn’t run as well as she should. And if one of them has a very good day — like eight grader Marisa Martinez finishing eighth at Capital City, one spot ahead of her sister Michaela — the rest of the team rallies around them.
Lockridge said the leadership of Vigil and Michaela Martinez has been crucial in building that “all-for-one” mentality.
“Take Michaela for example,” Lockridge said. “She has been doing everything and is a fantastic inspiration, a model for the girls. She doesn’t show anything negative. If she has a bad race, you’re not going to know if she did or not. She’s not jealous if her sister or if Mia is beating her.”
If there is one area of weakness, it is Pojoaque’s inexperience. It shows in bigger meets in which they run against larger fields. At last week’s John Grimley Invitational at San Felipe Pueblo, Michaela Martinez and Vigil finished 28th and 29th, respectively, but the next three runners (all eighth graders) placed 47th, 53rd and 58th.
Michaela Martinez talked about running in a large pack with the younger runners to help the understand how to navigate it, especially at the beginning of the race.
“I talked about maybe trying this, or trying this instead,” Michaela Martinez said. “It will probably help them this week.”
The Elkettes will get plenty of practice running in big meets, as another large contingent of runners will be at the Northern New Mexico Challenge on Saturday at the Pojoaque Wellness Center. Then comes to biggest regular-season meet of the year: The Rio Rancho Jamboree in which most of the teams around the state will come to Rio Rancho High School to set foot on the course they will run for the state meet on Nov. 9.
Lockridge hopes Pojoaque will be ready for that final race of the year. He believes the Elkettes can improve upon last year’s 13th-place finish, and sees a top 10 as a reasonable goal. Anything beyond that will be gravy.
“Anything under top 10 will be an accomplishment.” Lockridge said. “I never go in thinking about getting a trophy, even when I believe we can. I will say this: This year, there is no way they’re going to be 13th.”
And if “The Legend” says it, there must be a good reason for it.