FARMINGTON — Had Saturday's Rio Rancho Jamboree been the 2016 cross-country state meet, the Kirtland Central boys team would have been crowned 5A state champions, and the KC girls would have been the runners-up.
The Bronco clubs still have "their work cut out for them," according to coach Lenny Esson, but a ninth-overall finish for the boys and 13th place for the girls in the championship races — against 30 schools from 3A up to 6A — was a solid result. The boys finished ahead of all other 5A teams, while the girls were topped by only one fellow 5A competitor, Albuquerque Academy.
Kashon Harrison continued to stake his claim as the best male runner in New Mexico when he won first place out of 197 qualifying runners in the 5K. The dynamic KC sophomore is now seven-for-seven in first-place finishes this season.
"There were a few kids that went with him for the first half mile or so, then I think they realized he was going too fast so they backed off," Esson said of Harrison's race. "By the last mile, a few guys tried to make a move, but he already had too much distance for them to close."
LaKyla Yazzie took 39th to pace the Lady Broncos, who also placed three eighth graders in the top 67.
Esson said it will take better showings from his No. 5 runners on each side for KC to creep into top-two or top-three status come state time.
"We just don't have solid fifth runners, and sometimes that can hurt you, like at state," Esson said. "Not all the 5A schools were there, but still, we have a very good shot at being in the top three in both areas. If we develop solid fifth and sixth runners we might even creep up into the top two spots."
The Shiprock girls actually slotted one place ahead of the Lady Broncos in Rio Rancho by earning 12th.
As has been the case all season, top Lady Chieftain runners Destiny Rockwell (33rd overall), Khadija Lapahie (45th) and T'yana Harry (58th) didn't receive much support from the rest of the Shiprock team.
Coach Alice Kinlichee said her top girls have been very determined, but the rest of the team needs to step up if Shiprock hopes to land on the podium at state.
"Three Taos girls finished right behind T'Yana," Kinlichee said. "Nichole's (Howe) really been improving. The times between third and fourth have been diminishing. She's gotta run with some more motivation in order to close it up even more."
Kinlichee said she's optimistic her team will keep improving.
Two weekends after finishing 15th in Arizona's Desert Twilight race, Aaron Gould had another stellar showing in Rio Rancho, where he took 12th with a time of 16 minutes and 23 seconds in the 5K. Gould's Chieftains placed 14th, 31 points behind 11th-place Navajo Prep.
Cameron Becenti (53rd) and Mathis Quintana (55th) led the way for the Eagles. Coach Stephanie Zahne told her teams before the race to treat the event like the state meet.
"I told them to run like it's state, then evaluate what their strengths and weaknesses are so they could go into the next two races knowing what they can and can't do," Zahne said.
Prep's boys were second in 4A behind only East Mountain.
Navajo Prep's girls were led by Shannus Becenti, who took 34th. Becenti has had an impressive freshman campaign but is still learning. For the second time this year, she said she felt like she started too fast and that affected her endurance around the 2-mile mark.
Zahne said Becenti recovered better on Saturday than she did when this happened to her during the first meet of the year.
"At UNM, she maybe lasted the first 800 meters," Zahne said. "Fitness-wise, she's ready. Shannus is a racer. Now comes the mental preparation."
Aztec's boys took 19th out of 30 schools. Andrew Day (45th) and Dwight Barton (51st) were the top Tiger placers.
The Lady Tigers took 21st as a team. Ashlynn Atwood's 88th-place standing was a team high.
Paris Chee was great for Piedra Vista, with an 18th-place finish. Her Lady Panthers wound up in 14th overall.
PV's boys were 23rd, and Benjamin VanOtteson (75th) and Brayan Barajas (77th) finished the race just more than a second apart.
In addition to the championship division, there were also large-school boys and girls races, which is where Farmington and Bloomfield competed on Saturday.
FHS took seventh out of 24 schools, paced by Tanin McDermott and his 15th-place finish, while the Lady Scorpions earned 16th out of 21 behind Kassidy Nez's 20th-place result.
The Bloomfield girls were 10th out of 21, while the boys just escaped last place by taking 23rd out of 24th.
Breyana Woody (42nd) and Dwight Duwyenie (35th) were Bloomfield's respective top placers. Clayton White did not compete for the Bobcats.
Jake Newby covers sports for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577.