Truthfully, there wasn’t much room for improvement for Cleveland High distance runner Leah Futey.
After all, as an eighth-grader at the 2018 Class 5A state cross country meet she had finished second to Eldorado’s Jasmine Turtle-Morales.
So last Saturday, Futey improved by only one spot — from runner-up to state champ — at the 5A finals at Rio Rancho High School. Turtle-Morales, hoping to finish her senior season as repeat champ, came in second, 19 seconds behind the Storm’s freshman phenom.
“(Leah) had a great race plan going in and executed it to perfection,” coach Kenny Henry said. “Being able to win the individual state title, especially as a freshman, is no small feat. She was super-motivated and has worked very hard for it; she is extremely deserving of this.”
Turtle-Morales, though, had the satisfaction of leading her EHS Eagles to the state championship, garnering 48 points. Volcano Vista (77) was second, the Storm (99) were third and host Rio Rancho (115) finished fourth in the 15-team girls meet, contested on a gorgeous late-fall morning at Rio Rancho High School.
It marked the fifth year in a row the Storm girls have left the meet with a trophy; that includes team championships in 2015 and ’17.
Sweaty and happy after turning in a personal best, 18:26, for the 5K course — where Turtle-Morales (18:45) had beaten her not only in the ’18 state meet but also in the 2018 and ’19 Rio Rancho Jamborees — Futey said, “So I was real excited. It was my goal at the beginning of the season to win state.
“We’ve been battling back and forth for first place; (Turtle-Morales) has been a big competitor, so I was excited that I was able to beat her at state.
“My race plan was to stay with her until the big hill, coming down the concrete by the track, but going down that hill I felt I was able to open up that gap,” she said. “Jasmine was ahead of me until I passed her coming down that hill by the track.”
Henry didn’t have a complicated game plan for her, she said: “Mostly have fun and run as hard as I can and follow the race plan.”
Check and check: “I like this course; it was fun.”
“I’m really excited; Jasmine is gone next year, so I’ll be sad,” she said, when asked about repeating — and maybe about three-peating and four-peating.
After all, the Storm have previously had a female two-time state champ (Malia Gonzales, 2011 and ’12) and a three-timer, Amanda Mayoral (2015-17).
Also scoring for the Storm, later on the podium with their green trophy, were Isa Gonzales — Malia’s sister — who was ninth (19:39), Shelby Viseur (23rd/20:44), Ailana Toya (33rd/21:17) and Phoebe Jones (44th/21:43). Abby Alarid (67th/22:16) and Madison York (74th/22:26) also ran for CHS.
“I am super-proud of our girls’ accomplishments, not only at state, but all season long,” Henry said. “For these girls to come home with a third-place trophy is truly something to be excited about.
“Eldorado had beaten us throughout the season and Volcano Vista beat us by one point at district — those were the only teams in 5A to beat us — so we went in to the state meet with a go-for-broke mentality with high hopes of upsetting one or both of those teams,” he explained.
He’s already savoring what could happen next fall: “The thing that is really exciting about this group of girls is the fact that they are all back next year — we don’t lose any of the girls that ran at state.  If they are willing to get after it next fall, they could be really, really good.”
The Rams, who interestingly had their top five runners finish before the Storm’s fifth runner crossed the finish line, were led by eighth-grader Leah Varela, who was 11th with a time of 19:56. Also scoring for the Rams were sisters Faith (17th/20:32) and Gracey Lovato (21st/20:43), Athena Paquio (39th/21:32) and Zoe Martinez-Crook (43rd/21:40). Charisma Cutchall (52nd/21:59) and Jada Neely (96th/23:47) also ran for RRHS.
It was the second year in a row the Rams girls finished fourth; they had a four-year trophy streak going from 2014-17.
Another Futey leads CHS boys to blue
Three-peating as team champs and winning state for the fifth time in the school’s 11-year existence, Cleveland topped runner-up Volcano Vista (112) and Piedra Vista (114) — the teams Henry thought would challenge his harriers — by scoring 64 points.
The Storm’s five scoring runners all finished in 19th place or better, led by Lucas Futey’s eighth-place finish in 16:47. Rounding out the scoring quintet were Lucas Loe (ninth/16:50), Cody Toya (15th/17:12), Jesus Martinez (18th/17:13) and Natias Rael (19th/17:18). Not scoring, but managing a quality finish, was CHS’s Ricardo Garcia (26th/17:28).
It wasn’t as easy as it might seem.
“They were the top team in 5A all season long, but we had to deal with a lot of adversity to see it all the way through,” Henry said. “We lost our top runner midway through the season, but the team did not flinch. Even the week of state, Luke Futey and Lucas Loe, our top-two guys, were struggling with injuries.  In fact, we didn’t know if Luke was even going to be able to run.
“This group simply kept working, believed in each other and found a way to keep running,” he said. “I think they showed so much heart at state, which came out as a fantastic performance.
“We had four seniors in this group who have been nothing but leaders the whole way.  It will be hard to see them go but we also have four coming back from our state team that will allow us to have a strong team again next season,” Henry noted.
The Rams boys, who earned trophies at state cross country meets eight years in a row (2009-16), including championships in 2013 and ’14, went a third fall in a row without hardware.
Cebastian Marquez (12th/16:59) led the way. Finishing behind him were Leonard Nevarez (13th/17:07), Johnny Jarvis (39th/17:41), Michael Marcelli (41st/17:42) and Dawson Gunn (44th/17:46). Also running for the Rams were Ethan Spangenberg (60th/18:08) and Adam Donaldson (74th/18:26).
Pack time: Deemed “All State” by finishing in the top 10 are Cleveland’s Futey siblings, plus Lucas Loe and Isa Gonzales, who also finished ninth and was All-State in 2018.

The Class 5A championship team proudly displays its banner, won Nov. 9 at Rio Rancho High School.