KIRTLAND — Saturday couldn't have been a better day for the Bill Slade Invitational track meet at Kirtland Central High School on several fronts.

First, the meet was contested under sunny skies — a first this season, when meets have been dominated by wind, cold and rain.

"Quote from Ryder," said Kirtland Central's Ryder Hathaway, whoi pulled away from Bloomfield's Erik Miller to win the boys 300-meter hurdles.

Second, the competition couldn't have been any tighter, as several races came down to photo finishes.

The most thrilling of those photo finishes might have come in the final girls event of the day, the 4x400-meter relay. As she took the baton from teammate Hannah Washburn for the anchor leg, Kirtland's Kourtni Ashcroft trailed Aztec's Kendra Mitchell by a full second. Bound and determined to catch Mitchell, Ashcroft ran a 60-second lap — an impressive feat by any measure — and caught Mitchell in the final straightaway.

"It was painful — it was so painful," Ashcroft said. "I didn't think I was going to catch her at all. I was going so hard, and I'm surprised I caught her. She was good. I give her credit for how she ran that. She ran it so hard."

The two were neck-and-neck as they crossed the finish line. Ashcroft stumbled to the ground just after the line, her legs too wobbly and worn out to keep her from falling. As Lady Broncos coach Leland Adair excitedly went to Ashcroft to tell her what an impressive run she had, Mitchell and her teammates celebrated as Aztec girls coach Anna Strauss told them they'd just qualified for the state meet.

"That was tough," Mitchell said. "I knew she was behind me the whole time. I just had to tell myself to keep going. That was awesome, because that's what we've been working for is to qualify, and today we got it done."

The photo revealed that Ashcroft edged Mitchell by just two one-hundredths of a second at the line, helping the Broncos win the girls team title by seven and a half points over the Tigers.

Ashcroft also won the 100-meter and 300-meter hurdles, leaving her with just one event that she still needs to qualify for state in — the long jump.

"That's going to be my main focus," Ashcroft said.

Other winners for Kirtland included Myka Benally (1,600-meter run), Washburn (pole vault), Kim Smith (javelin) and Melanie Heslop (discus and shot put).

The close finishes were a theme all day on the girls side. In the 100-meter dash, the top three — Aztec's Meghan Gerry, Pojoaque's Kimberly Babicke and KC's Kallie Farnsworth — were separated by less than a tenth of a second, with Gerry edging Babicke by a hundredth. Mitchell beat Gerry by a hundredth in the 200-meter dash.

Gerry beat Mitchell by three inches in the triple jump. The Lady Tigers also won the 1,600-meter sprint medley.

Pojoaque was third in the girls team standings, followed by Bloomfield, Navajo Prep, Dulce and Shiprock.

A number of athletes celebrated after achieving those all-important state qualifying marks.

Bloomfield's Seth Booker became the fifth Bobcat to qualify for state in the 300 hurdles, clocking in with a time of 42.66 seconds in the preliminaries. That adds even more depth to a Bobcats squad that figures to be in contention for a top-three finish in Class 3A at the state meet in a few weeks.

"We had some really great efforts," said Bloomfield coach Phil Sategña, who also saw his 4x200-meter relay team qualify for state. "The hurdles are our bread and butter, and they really helped us out today."

BHS finished second in the boys standings to Aztec. The Tigers got individual victories from Jake Espinoza (100), Justin Watkins (200), Ben Brooks (400), Austin Brookshier (800) and Matt Hegarty (shot put), along with wins in two of the four relays and a second-place finish in the medley relay.

Bloomfield was led by Evan Bekes, who shaved seven seconds off his previous personal best with a time of 10:15.04 in the 3,200-meter run, beating Troy Madalena of Jemez Valley by more than nine seconds. Bekes won the 1,600-meter run by more than eight seconds over Madalena, and was second to Brookshier in the 800. Austin Johnson won the 110-meter hurdles, while Cameron Corley won both the high jump and long jump and Mikey Loy won the triple jump.

Kirtland Central was third, with Shiprock fourth and Navajo Prep fifth. Dulce, Red Mesa (Ariz.), Jemez Valley and Pojoaque rounded out the team standings.