Tomas Vega is a few minutes older than his twin brother German. But, in Friday’s NMJC Cross Country Invitational at Harry McAdams Park in Hobbs, German was a little bit ahead of his brother.
With a time of 24:12 that set a New Mexico Junior College school record, German won the meet. Tomas finished second at 24:43 to give the Vega family – and the NMJC family – a 1-2 punch at the top of the men’s race standings.
The Thunderbirds swept the meet, as Damaris Chewon took first place easily in the women’s race, posting a time of 18:32.30, well ahead of second-place finisher Madelyn Merrell of Lubbock Christian (19:13.10).
Not surprisingly, both NMJC teams captured first in the overall meet standings.
“I was real happy with the way Damaris ran on the ladies side, and Tomas and German on the men’s side,” NMJC head coach Jeff Becker said. “I was happy with the way the day went.”
Friday’s success came on the heels of the season’s first national poll, which had the NMJC women ranked fourth and the men ranked seventh. That seems to bode well for the season going forward, especially the national meet at seasons’s end.
“I feel that if both teams continue to work hard, I could see both somewhere in the top three at nationals,” Becker said.
On Friday in the men’s competition, the Thunderbirds didn’t stop at just capturing the top two spots; they earned three places in the top four, with Evans Pololet taking fourth (25:02.60). NMJC boasted five out of the top seven spots, as Chris Korir landed in sixth place (25:29.10) and Alex Keter grabbed seventh (26:16.40).
“All the team was working a lot on the circuit,” German Vega said. “I had a pain in the (left) leg, but I didn’t care. I was trying to do the best for the team. We are a unit, so I’m not surprised that we won, because we work a lot on the track, training. We work so hard.”
For Tomas Vega, second place was OK considering German came in first.
“It was good to share the race with him, share the results,” Tomas Vega said. “We want what’s best for the team. So happy for the team. It’s a big accomplishment for the team, for us, for the college.”
In the women’s race, Letlhogonolo Magoro earned a fourth-place finish for NMJC, with a time of 20:03.70. 2022 Lovington High graduate Vanessa Gallegos tallied a seventh-place finish for NMJC (20:22.20), and her Thunderbird teammates Daisy Jerop and Joan Kimalel were eighth (20:24.10) and 10th (20:45.10), respectively.
But it was Chewon who stood out from everyone in the women’s competition.
“I felt good,” Chewon said. “My time was not like my last time, but I felt good. I did my training well. … I want to work hard, train hard, to improve my time.”
For Gallegos, it’s been a transition. Just a few months ago she was a Lovington High senior on the podium at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque after taking third place in the 800-meter run of the state 4A track & field championships. She’s early in her freshman season at NMJC, and has been embracing her new experience as her running career evolves.
“It’s good, I really like it,” Gallegos said. “My teammates are really good and my coach is also very good. It’s a little different, more miles and a little bit harder. The first week I was struggling, but I really enjoy it. It’s better than I expected.”
Other NMJC competitors were Minankolo Magassa (12th, 20:50.40), Carolyne Kimaiyo (13th, 21:05.20), and Morgan Waltmire (16th, 21:27.40) on the women’s side; and David Hernandez (15th, 28:33.10) on the men’s side.
University of the Southwest’s top finisher was Mitzi Madrid, a 2021 Hobbs High graduate, who placed 20th in the women’s race with a time of 21:57.60.
“I feel like it wasn’t my best,” Madrid said. “When the season started, I hadn’t raced in over two years, so I feel like I’m just getting back into it. Since COVID happened I had basically stopped running.”
Madrid, like Gallegos, has been adjusting to college running.
“There are better runners,” Madrid said. “Other than that, it’s the same. Just competition, you know.”
Madrid was introduced to running by her older brother Jessie. “He started training me when I was in middle school,” said Madrid, who plans to pursue a degree in elementary education.
As for this cross country season, Madrid admits she has some work to do.
“I’m not where I want to be,” she said. “But by the end of the season I expect myself to be way faster than I am right now.”
Also completing Friday’s race for USW were Diego Vega (23rd in the men’s competition, 30:09.30) and Michael Dominguez (28th, 31:43.80).