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Cross country is a sport of endurance and overcoming obstacles, and Artesia High School’s runners did exactly that Saturday at the District 3- and 4-AAAA Meet in Santa Teresa.

To start with, there’s the district itself. With the five teams from District 4 – Artesia, Goddard, Lovington, Portales and Ruidoso – lumped together with District 3’s Chaparral, Santa Teresa and Silver, the eight-team group is the largest in the classification. And that, obviously, means more competition for not only the district title but the chance to advance to the Class 4A State Meet as well.

Then came the other obstacles: The Lady Bulldogs had yet to compete as a full team at a single meet all season, and the Bulldogs lost one of their runners to illness just as they were about to leave for district.

With all of that considered, the teams’ results Saturday were all the more impressive. The Lady ‘Dogs were able to punch their ticket to the state event as a team with a third-place overall finish, and while the ‘Dogs came up short with a fifthplace showing, they ran their best races of the season and will be represented at state by seventhplace individual finisher O’Brien Verdin.

“We’re very proud of all of our runners,” head coach Sandra Pulido said Saturday. “They all ran really well, and the fact that they were able to suck up the pain, put that aside, and run for each other was huge.

“You talk about cross country being an individual sport, but today really just showed how much of a team dynamic we have with these kids and how much they run for each other.”

Injuries have plagued the Artesia girls throughout the 2019 season, and although the team final had all of its top-five runners ready to go in Santa Teresa, not having run together as a group all year could have posed a major problem.

“We knew we had a good opportunity to qualify, but the thing we were most worried about was the fact the girls hadn’t run a race as an entire team all season,” Pulido said. “There was always at least one girl hurt out of our top five runners. At the beginning of the season, we lost Carley Simer to injury, and then over the last couple of meets, we’ve been missing Maria Reyes.

“We finally got Carley back but were still without Maria, so once we finally got clearance for both of them, this was the first meet that they were able to qualify. So the fact that they did says a lot about them.”

All eight teams on the boys’ side of the district, meanwhile, had a full team, meaning the competition was stiff.

“We had a really, really good chance of making it, but we lost one boy due to illness right before we left,” Pulido said. “He’s been our No. 5 runner all season, so that hurt, but it gave our other kids an opportunity to step up and pick up the slack.

“They all ran really well; most of them PR’d [set personal records] today, which was fantastic to see on their end. They were all upset they didn’t qualify as a team, but at the end of it, when we asked them if they left it all out there, they said yes, and that’s all you can ask. We told them it would be different if they said they had more left in the tank and didn’t qualify. There were a lot of tough teams; the difference between third and fourth was two points, so it was definitely a tough boys’ race.”

Verdin’s top-10 finish, however, will allow him to move on to Saturday’s 4A State Meet in Rio Rancho, a course on which the senior placed third overall Oct. 19 at the annual Rio Rancho Jamboree.

“This is O’Brien’s senior year, his last opportunity to run in a cross-country meet representing Artesia, and so he’s got to just leave it all out on the course again,” Pulido said. “And even though our girls are all underclassmen, we’re telling them the same thing: Just remember the sacrifices you made all season because this is what it comes down to.

“This is why they went through all of the training and all of the mental preparation. Physically, they’re ready to run. It’s just going to come down to what’s between their ears and how focused they can be this week to prepare for that big race.”

The Artesia runners have a solid opportunity to place high at the meet despite stiff competition in a classification that includes the Albuquerque Academies and Los Alamoses of the state. Based on the improvement they’ve seen over the course of the season, Pulido and her staff believe the same.

“No matter what the outcome is, both Coach Rivera and I are more than proud of these kids and the work they put in,” said the coach. “All of the kids in our program have made huge improvements throughout the season, and we’re just really excited for what the future of the program holds and what these kids are capable of. We know they’re going to represent their families and community well.