By Rick White
ALAMOGORDO — Clovis coach Darren Kelley said he felt empty Saturday as he watched La Cueva snatch away the Class 5A state track title from the Wildcats in the meet’s last event.
This was supposed to be the season Clovis was finally going to win the school’s first boys state title. The Cats had two of the state’s top athletes in Derond Jackson and Joey Garcia and a couple of solid relay teams in a year when six-time defending state champion La Cueva was nowhere on the radar screen most of the season.
Jackson and Garcia did their part, combining for 43 1/2 points and five gold medals.
But it still wasn’t enough as La Cueva leapfrogged over Clovis by finishing second in the 1,600-meter relay, giving the Bears 59 points and another state title.
Clovis, which did not qualify a 1,600 relay team and could only hope La Cueva placed no better than fourth, finished with 56 points while Hobbs was a distant third with 42 points after two days under the blistering sun at Alamogordo High School.
“The kids did a great job,” Kelley said. “They did what they were supposed to do for two days. We had our chances, but the points were so spread out that a point here and a point there made a big difference.”
Probably the biggest swing in points came in the 800 relay in which La Cueva finished second and Clovis fourth. The Wildcats had the fastest qualifying time on Friday while the Bears were fourth.
La Cueva won just two events, but had enough depth to prevail.
Bears coach and Clovis native Mike Tixier said it wasn’t easy keeping alive the streak started by current University of New Mexico coach Mike Henry in 1997.
“Because of injuries, exams and other commitments we weren’t able to field a whole team until the district meet,” Tixier said. “But the kids responded well. They knew they had to finish third or better in the 1,600 (relay), and they did.”
Jackson, who finished as the high-point individual with 25 1/2 points on the strength of wins in the 200 meters and triple jump, said the individual honor felt hollow in light of his team’s second-place finish.
“The honor is nice, but we came here to win a state title,” said Jackson, who also finish second in the 100 meters and third in long jump while picking up a third gold medal as part of the Wildcats’ 400 relay team. “So it’s still disappointing.”
Jackson’s win in triple jump had given Clovis a 56-51 lead minutes before the start of the 1,600 relay.
“It was hard to watch the race,” said Jackson, one of seven Clovis seniors competing at the state meet. “It was the one time I was kind of hoping for something bad to happen to somebody.”
Garcia, who signed with Texas Tech to play football, picked up impressive wins in the 110 and 300 hurdles and also ran a leg on 400 relay team that rebounded from a couple of bad handoffs Friday with a near-perfect run on Saturday.
“Boy, those guys are tough,” Tixier said of Jackson and Garcia. “Jackson was everything they said he was and a bag of chips, while Garcia was just as good.”
Mike Garcia of Santa Fe High joined Jackson and Joey Garcia as double winners in the meet. The Santa Fe middle distance standout set a new state record in the 400 meters (48.10).
Clovis won the coveted 400 relay in the first track event of the day.
Hobbs won the other three relays en route to its surprising third-place finish.