New Mexico cross-country retrospective: the 1970s featured Laguna Acoma boys' dynasty

Matt Hollinshead,

FARMINGTON — The 1970s saw some schools take over as New Mexico cross-country powerhouses, all while individual accolades during that era helped launch teams into statewide prominence.

The course distances were also lengthened from the 1960s range.

Here are those teams and individual competitors that helped shape the 1970s and beyond:

The Laguna Acoma boys

After wrapping up the previous decade with its first team title back in 1969, Laguna Acoma hit its peak as a program in the 1970s — sweeping through that particular decade with another 10 consecutive state titles.

That record of 11 straight titles set in 1979 wasn’t snapped until 1994, when Gallup won its 12th team title.

Laguna Acoma had four runners take home individual state titles during the 70s, including Meldon Sanchez’s three-peat (1975-1977).

Shiprock’s Vinny Thomas and Kirtland Central’s Wilbur Nakai

Both Thomas and Nakai won individual state titles during the 1970s, helping launch one of New Mexico’s hotbeds for cross-country talent.

Thomas won the 1974 3A boys title with an official time of 17 minutes, 24 seconds. Nakai won the 1977 3A boys title at 15:12.

It was the first major cross-country championship for each school, and the duo helped make San Juan County relevant in the sport.

Grants’ Andy Martinez

Martinez won three straight 4A boys titles between 1973 and 1975.

His three-peat also came during a time when Grants started catching up with Highland and Bernalillo, which were cross-country powerhouses during the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Martinez helped set the standard for Grants to be included in the state title conversations, whether as a team or individually, during the '70s.

Martinez's times between 1973 and 1975 were 14:29, 16:30 and 13:50, respectively.

Grants ended up winning team titles in 1972, 1973 and 1977.

Los Alamos’ Anthony Sandoval

Sandoval opened the 1970s with state titles in 1970 and 1971.

Sandoval's official time in 1970 was 9:41. His official time in 1971, which was when the course was lengthened, was 14:47.

According to a New Mexico Track and Cross Country Coaches Association document, Sandoval went on to run at Stanford University, winning a Pacific 10 Conference title in 1976 in the 10,000-meter run.

Sandoval’s back-to-back titles also came on the heels of those of a fellow Hilltopper, Ric Rojas. Rojas won titles in 1968 and 1969 at 9:32 and 9:43, respectively.

Matt Hollinshead covers sports for the Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4577 and on Twitter at @MattH_717.

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