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Madilynn Moon, left, and Michaela Phipps keep pace with one another during the Coach ‘Mo’ and Marquise’ Weast Memorial Meet Oct. 1 at Jaycee Park. (Brienne Green - Daily Press)

Madilynn Moon, left, and Michaela Phipps keep pace with one another during the Coach ‘Mo’ and Marquise’ Weast Memorial Meet Oct. 1 at Jaycee Park. (Brienne Green – Daily Press)

Chance Mitchell, far left, Kale Mauritsen, third from right, and Rafael Molina, far right, round the corner during Artesia’s home meet. (Teresa Lemon - Daily Press)

Chance Mitchell, far left, Kale Mauritsen, third from right, and Rafael Molina, far right, round the corner during Artesia’s home meet. (Teresa Lemon – Daily Press)

For the Bulldog and Lady Bulldog cross country teams, it was all about finishing strong Nov. 7 at the Class 5A State Meet in Rio Rancho – for themselves, for their coach, and for a lost teammate and mentor.

They did all of the above proud.

Against adversity both on and off the course, the Artesia runners improved their times and gained the experience they’ll need to come back competitive in 2016.

“They did well,” head coach Shelley Ebarb said. “From last year to this year, all the kids who’ve run up there before improved, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

The Bulldogs placed 14th overall as a team, led by junior Julius Acosta in 41st place with a time of 17:57.35.

“The last half of the season, Julius finally figured it all out and had some great meets for us,” said Ebarb. “He’s running probably two minutes faster than last year.”

Not far behind in 46th place was Hunter Ash with a time of 18:01.55, followed by Eliazar Granillo (61st, 18:29.90), Felipe Salamanca (83rd, 19:09.10), Kale Mauritsen (92nd, 19:38.50), Isaac Lopez (93rd, 19:45.65) and Fabian Perez (95th, 19:57.30).

“The boys had a good day,” said Ebarb. “They averaged a whole minute faster than last year and moved up a couple of spots. Four out of our top five had their best races of the year and were much faster.”

The Lady Bulldogs were unfortunately forced to contend with a few race-day shakeups but fought through them valiantly.

Perhaps the biggest was the sidelining of top-two runner Madilynn Moon due to illness. Top-three runner Katelynn Sullivan suffered a severe cramp a mile-and-a-half in that put her out of the race, and Lauren Robson became ill mid-run but managed to finish.

Sophomore Michaela Phipps crossed the line first in 67th overall for the Lady ‘Dogs with a time of 23:07.25, Lexi Montgomery was 73rd with a 23:22.80, Ali Mauritsen 76th, 23:31.45, Joslyn Madrid 90th, 24:42.60, and Robson 92nd, 24:56.70.

“Things just did not work out for the girls that day,” said Ebarb. “But even though we didn’t have a good day, we averaged probably 10 minutes faster than last year, and we got a lot of experience.”

And experience is the name of the game for a program that will lose just a single senior this year in Dana Thalman.

“The girls came back this year running one to two minutes faster than last year in all their races,” Ebarb said. “We just had a very young group of girls on varsity – one freshman, one junior, and the rest were sophomores. So they’re all figuring out how to race.”

The boys’ program will graduate eight seniors this year in Ash, Salamanca, Perez, Ben Beverage, Isaac Gutierrez, Jose Tesillo, Rafael Molina and Michael McEachern but return a solid core to their varsity lineup.

“Two of our top five runners at state were seniors, which means we’ll have three out of that group back next year,” said Ebarb. “Our boys did way better this season than last.”

The whole of the 2015 season was a difficult one for the AHS runners. The program lost Marquise’ Weast, who would have returned this year for her senior season, in the spring and longtime coach, mentor and friend Marcos Morillon Aug. 23. But although they spent the year running with heavy hearts, Ebarb feels the losses inspired the athletes to give their best effort in tribute to the two.

“They all spent the season grieving in their own way, and it was tough,” said Ebarb. “But they got through it. And I think they’re better for it.”

Rio Rancho Jamboree
Oct. 17

Varsity Girls, 6th
Madilynn Moon, 13th, 21:59; Michaela Phipps, 18th, 22:15; Katelynn Sullivan, 53rd, 23:31; Jocelyn Madrid, 61st, 23:44; Lauren Robson, 65th, 23:52; Lexi Montgomery, 81st, 24:14; Ali Mauritsen, 89th, 24:30
Varsity Boys, 11th
Hunter Ash, 29th, 18:11; Julius Acosta, 36th, 18:19; Eliazar Granillo, 74th, 19:03; Isaac Lopez, 83rd, 19:13; Kale Mauritsen, 101st, 19:36; Felipe Salamanca, 111th, 19:50; Chance Mitchell, 128th, 20:22
JV Boys
Fabian Perez, 71st, 19:48; Umeko Ponce, 102nd, 20:24; Rafael Molina, 113th, 20:35; Isaac Gutierrez, 124th, 20:50

NMMI Invitational
Oct. 12

Varsity Girls, 3rd
Moon, 7th, 21:06; Phipps, 9th, 21:35; Sullivan, 14th, 22:48; Mauritsen, 22nd, 23:32; Robson, 27th, 23:42; Madrid, 29th, 23:59
Varsity Boys, 4th
Acosta, 9th, 17:20; Granillo, 14th, 17:45; Ash, 18th, 17:57; Salamanca, 26th, 18:59; Lopez, 29th, 19:19; Molina, 32nd, 19:45; Perez, 34th, 20:07
JV Girls
Kimberlee Bennett, 13th, 25:44; Harley Kramer, 14th, 25:55; Olivia Torrez, 19th, 27:48; Tori Coss, 20th, 28:24
JV Boys, 5th
Mitchell, 11th, 19:34; Ponce, 13th, 19:49; Gutierrez, 19th, 20:05; Ben Beverage, 26th, 20:59; Jose Tesillo, 39th, 23:17; Josh Rivera, 42nd, 24:05

Artesia Coach ‘Mo’ and Marquise’ Weast Memorial Meet
Oct. 1

Varsity Girls, 4th
Phipps, 7th, 23:16; Moon, 12th, 24:29; Madrid, 22nd, 25:17; Montgomery, 26th, 25:38; Mauritsen, 30th, 26:01; Sullivan, 33rd, 26:35
Varsity Boys, 5th
Acosta, 17th, 19:21; Granillo, 18th, 19:21; Mauritsen, 26th, 20:03; Molina, 27th, 20:07; Mitchell, 28th, 20:08; Salamanca, 29th, 20:10; Lopez, 30th, 20:14
JV Girls, 2nd
Bennett, 8th, 28:15; Kramer, 16th, 31:35; Coss, 19th, 32:16; Hailey Ashe, 21st, 33:17; Alyssa Steed, 26th, 35:00; Torrez, 31st, 37:39
JV Boys, 5th
Ponce, 10th, 22:00; Gutierrez, 16th, 22:26; Beverage, 20th, 23:21; Matthew Todt, 22nd, 23:36; Zaac Pittam, 34th, 24:33; Rivera, 46th, 26:05; Logan Steed, 61st, 34:49