ALBUQUERQUE — As Santa Fe High School's track and field team left the awards podium Saturday evening, the Aztec High School girls congratulated the team by raising their hands to create a tunnel for their competitors to walk through.
And then the girls ran up to the awards podium to accept their first-place trophy in class 4A track and field for the second year in a row.
The competition between the two high schools during the New Mexico 3A-5A State Track and Field Championship at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque was close all day on Saturday.
As the girls' 4x400 meter relay team stepped up to the line during the final event, the Lady Tigers were five points behind the Lady Demons.
The Lady Tigers relay team knew that race would be the difference between second and first place. If they finished more than three places ahead of Santa Fe, they would win.
"It's like that a lot of the meets," junior Sierra Martinez said. "We use it to motivate us."
As senior Jessica Kresl sprinted down the final stretch of the relay, she ran neck-and-neck with a girl from Del Norte.
Meanwhile, behind them, Santa Fe and Piedra Vista high schools battled for fifth place.
Lady Tigers head coach Anna Strauss knew her team would win if Piedra Vista beat Santa Fe.
"When PV came off that corner, I was just screaming for them," Strauss said.
She credited the team's win to the efforts of the girls and the coaching staff.
Morgan Smith added to the Aztec championship tally of 78 points with a state title in pole vault after a leap of 10-feet 9-inches.
The javelin was also critical for the Lady Tigers title chances.
Defending champion Kayli Farmer placed second, while teammates Samantha Strauss and Rikki Newland took third and fourth to give Aztec 12 points from the event.
The team's top scoring athlete, junior Sarah Root, also received recognition for earning the most points of any 4A girl, tying with Santa Fe's Tiffany Garcia. Each girl earned 24 points.
Roots' points came from the long jump, triple jump, 300-meter hurdles and the 100-meter hurdles.
"It's just great to come out here and be competing against some of the girls in my district," she said.
One of those girls was Zhianna Flores, a Piedra Vista High School senior who Root competed against in the 300-meter hurdles. Flores won the race, but walked away from the podium with her arms around Root and Farmington's River Hess.
In addition to winning first, Flores also broke the state record she set two years ago in the event, which was her goal going into the race.
Flores was the defending champion in the event. She said the most difficult thing for her was staying focused and "making sure that I finished the race instead of slowing."