Cibola boys track and field coach Kenny Henry might not be ready yet to list his squad as a favorite to win the Class 5A state team championship again in May, but two things may hasten an opinion-change among others around New Mexico.
First, the Cougars are just now getting back junior standout Matt Valenzuela. Second, even with Valenzuela as a very limited part of the mix, Cibola won the always-tough Wildcat Relays in Clovis on Friday night.
"I think the favorites are Highland High School, Rio Rancho High School and, by the end of the year, La Cueva High School," Henry said.
Highland and Rio Rancho, though impressive, were at the same Clovis meet which Cibola won.
The victorious Cougars got victories from Justin Gomez in the 800-meter run, Tony Minerd in the high jump and Daniel Fiaseu in the javelin to accumulate 123 points. Rio Rancho, in second with 106.2 points, saw Gizeh Ibanez take the 200- and 400-meter dashes while Larry Dupree (long jump) and Daniel Fant (pole vault) also took firsts.
Highland, which finished third with 74, got another impressive win from Rolando Trammel in the 110-meter hurdles and triple jump as well as extra help from Charles Lewis and Zach Doran - victors respectively in the 300-hurdles and 3,200-meter run.
"This is always a really, really good meet. It's hard to measure against a state meet, because you only have eight teams here," Henry said. "But they are really outstanding teams. If we can do well here, that will give us confidence."
Valenzuela won the 200 and 400 meters at state last year, but has missed the last month of the track season due to an injured hamstring. At Clovis, the Cougars' junior did run in the 400, but in the first - and slowest, usually - heat.
Despite essentially running by himself, as his lead was so large other competitors could not be seen, Valenzuela finished with the third-best time of the day.
"It'll take a few weeks before he starts feeling right," Henry said. "He's been dying to run long before this, but we just wanted to bring him along slow."
Girls Track and Field: Rio Rancho takes Wildcat Relays
The Clovis girls track and field team didn't win its own Wildcat Relays event last year and that worked out all right when Clovis took the Class 5A state championship.
The 'Cats are working from behind again this season, with Rio Rancho now the front-runner. Winning the Relays with 135.5 points on Friday night, the Rams beat second-place Clovis by 44 points while Highland, Cibola and Alamogordo rounded out the top five teams.
Rio Rancho's Alana Littleford won the 1,600-meter run while teammate CiCi Cordova captured first in the 100-hurdles. The Rams also got firsts from Katrina Trout in the pole vault as well as Kelsea Hawkins in the javelin.
Last year, Cibola was impressive in winning the Clovis meet. When it came time for state, however, Clovis surprised the Cougars by grabbing the 5A team championship.
On Friday, Wildcats coach Darrel Ray said he expected that his squad would be chasing a new front-runner.
"We figured we were probably going to get out-manned again and get a second-place trophy and that's fine," Ray said.
Clovis was missing one of its top all-around athletes in junior Antiesha Brown, who was at an AAU basketball event at the University of North Carolina. Incidentally, she was on the same team with Cibola standout Amber Battle.
But the host Wildcats still had plenty to crow about with the remaining cast.
In seven events, Clovis athletes finished first while four other events ended with 'Cats in second.
Among the victors was senior Meagan Baglein, who took the shot put with a heave of 36-feet, 2-inches - almost two feet better than second place Angalisha Franklin of Hobbs. Baglein also won the discus, with a toss of 124-feet, 8-inches, by bettering runnerup Lashira Adams of Highland by almost five feet.
Fellow Clovis senior Lainey Flatow also nearly took a pair of individual wins. Flatow won the long jump at 16-feet, 8-inches to beat Robertson's Kassandra Tapia. In the high jump, Flatow set a personal best by clearing 5-feet, 4-inches although that was only good for second when Robertson's Marin Schweigert went two inches higher.
"I was pretty close to jumping 5-6, so he (Ray) was pretty happy about that," Flatow said. "Real close. My body was over it, but my calves barely touched it. It stayed up there at first, but then it fell."
Two-time defending state champ at 800-meters, Clovis' Caitlin Waters won that event by three seconds over Rio Rancho's Meghan Valdez. Waters stretched out a once-narrow lead by pulling away from Valdez around the final turn.
"It was a good race," Waters said. "I was looking out for her and wasn't going to let her pass me. I did my sprint at the end, which really helped."