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(Photo Courtesy Shelley Ebarb)

With just a pair of meets under their cleats thus far in 2017, the Artesia High School cross country teams are already making strides.

After getting their legs under them at the season-opening Lovington Invitational Aug. 31, the Lady Bulldogs took third place Saturday at the NMMI Invitational in Roswell. And while the Bulldogs have just one athlete competing at the varsity level at this point, their younger runners will soon be sufficiently improved to fill out those remaining spots.

“This year, we have 10 girls and 10 boys running,” head coach Shelley Ebarb said Monday. “Several of the varsity runners were busy all summer preparing for the season, and I think they will be running well.

“We have a lot of new kids who are starting to catch on and get in shape, and we’re looking forward to watching their progress.”

The Lady ‘Dogs return five athletes from their 2016 roster, including seniors Michaela Phipps, Joslyn Madrid and Lexi Montgomery, and juniors Kimberlee Bennett and Katelynn Sullivan. Joining the team in 2017 are freshmen Shelby Kramer, Deimy Dominguez-Ortiz, Dania Juardo, Estefani Rodriguez and Cielo Gutierrez.

The Bulldogs have four familiar faces back in seniors Eliazar Granillo, Isaac Lopez and Caleb Carnathan, and sophomore TJ Hogan. New additions include sophomores Coy Moorhead and Martin Saenz, and freshmen Devon Harrison, Paul Ontiveros, Julian Martinez and Emmet Clark.

At the Lovington Invite, Phipps broke into the top 15 for the Lady ‘Dogs with an 11th-place time of 20:58, followed by Madrid (25th, 22:26), Kramer (35th, 23:27), Bennett (38th, 23:56) and Montgomery (47th, 25:08). The squad placed fifth out of a field of seven that included Lovington, Hobbs and Tucumcari, and Texas teams Lubbock, Odessa and Denver City.

“Our varsity girls did a great job for their first meet,” said Ebarb. “Our top four girls were all right on pace for each of their miles, and Michaela finished about 15 seconds ahead of her time last year on the same course.”

Granillo came in 14th overall in the boys’ varsity race – which included competitors from Hobbs, Carlsbad, Lovington, Lubbock, Odessa, NMMI, Goddard, Seminole and Denver City – with a time of 17:16.

“He got a little excited and ran his first mile in 5:15, which caused him to slow down for the next two,” said Ebarb. “He’s experimenting with his racing strategy and pace, so hopefully he’ll have it all worked out by district.”

In the JV boys’ competition in Lovington, Moorhead came in 30th (19:57), followed by Harrison (58th, 21:45), Clark (68th, 23:19), Martinez (71st, 23:34), Ontiveros (79th, 24:33), Carnathan (82nd, 24:44) and Saenz (85th, 25:13). Sullivan turned in a time of 24:16 in the girls’ JV race, Dominguez-Ortiz a 29:59, and Rodriguez a 30:03.

Saturday in Roswell, the Lady Bulldogs stepped up their game, with Phipps coming two spots away from an overall win with a third-place time of 20:14. Madrid wasn’t far behind in 12th with a 21:44, Bennett finished 20th (22:39), Kramer was 23rd (23:01), and Sullivan kept Artesia entirely in the top 30 with a 29th-place (23:57).

Those placements were good enough for a team third behind Lovington and Clovis and ahead of Carlsbad and Capitan.

“The varsity girls ran well again, keeping their paces even,” said Ebarb. “Michaela ran a great race. Joslyn and Kimberlee continue to improve and are both running about 30 seconds faster than last year. Shelby is also right on with her pace, and we expect her to increase that pace with a little more experience.”

Flying solo once again for the ‘Dogs, Granillo was 16th overall with a 17:24 against runners from Clovis, Lovington, Carlsbad, NMMI and Goddard.

“He was a little under the weather last week, so his time wasn’t his best, but he still managed to finish in 16th place,” said Ebarb.

The Lady ‘Dogs had one entry in the JV race – Dominguez-Ortiz – who came in 26th with a time of 28:48, and the Bulldog JV was led by Moorhead (18th, 20:12), followed by Harrison (38th, 22:18), Martinez (41st, 22:53), Ontiveros (53rd, 24:37), Carnathan (55th, 24:47) and Saenz (56th, 24:55).

Ebarb says she plans to begin adding runners to the Bulldog varsity as JV athletes gain stamina and experience, and Lopez will be joining Granillo as soon as he recovers from the effects of an ankle sprain.

“The JV runners are improving each week, with Coy leading our pack,” said the coach. “We’re hoping to move him into the varsity division in the next couple of weeks. One by one, we will be moving the JV runners up as they improve, so we should have a full team for district.”

The AHS runners will next compete Saturday at the Ron Singleton Invitational in Carlsbad.

“Although we’re a little low on numbers and experience, this group has a lot of enthusiasm,” said Ebarb. “Our training goal this year is to work on pacing.”