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For the Centennial High School girls track and field team, the wait was worth it.
After seeing their 2020 season canceled because of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Hawks had a season to remember this spring and summer.
Centennial High had never had an individual state champion in track and field before in its history, but this year ended up with two girls taking home three gold medals from the state 5A meet on June 26 in Albuquerque.
Ku’upualiliapihamekealoha “Lia” Pili took first in the girls discus with a throw of 134 feet, 1 inch and in the shot at 44 feet-even.
Teammate Lauren Ocampo took first in the girls javelin 121-even and was fifth in the discus (110-3).
Pili, a senior, was also named the Gatorade girls track and field athlete of the year in New Mexico.
It was Pili’s first and only year at Centennial. Her father, Ifo Pili, is a former college and professional football player who is new city manager for Las Cruces.
She had spent her three previous years going to high school in Utah, where she grew up.
“I was there my whole life so it was like culture shock coming here,” Pili said. “It’s been good, though. I grew up knowing one thing and I came here and it was a whole different thing. It’s been good to get out of my comfort zone.”
When she arrived at Centennial last fall, she started working out with her new teammate, Ocampo. Two younger sisters are also throwers.
Lelei Pili, a junior, was sixth in the girls discus at state (101-10) and seventh in the shot put (32-11 ½). Ave Pili, a sophomore, was third in the shot (33-11) and sixth in the javelin (105-2).
A fifth Centennial girl, Ayanna Leal, a senior, made finals at state, taking seventh in the discus (100-3).
It all made for a group of real and adopted sisters who worked out together and pushed each other, Lia Pili and Ocampo said.
“We were each other’s energy,” Lia Pili said. “We really drew from each other.”
Ocampo said she had a hard time during the early stages of the pandemic staying motivated, with no end in sight and no meets on the horizon.
But she said when Pili and her sisters arrived this fall, it turned the whole dynamic around.
“I kind of lost my motivation, because I didn’t see an end to this,” said Ocampo, the daughter of Aaron Ocampo, the Centennial throwing coach and head football coach. “Once the Pilis moved here, we would hold each other accountable and go out and throw and have our own little competitions.”
Pili said it was almost like living a real-life version of the movie “Groundhog Day,” where you keep experiencing the same day over and over again.
“It is hard to see how that is going to help you immediately because you weren’t competing,” she said.
“You just need to put your head down and trust in the process.”
Ocampo said she is thrilled to have won a state championship and is looking forward to the next two track seasons.
“Obviously, it would be cool to be a three-time state champion,” she said. “But I’m just focusing on the next meet and the next PR (personal record).”
Pili said she is weighing scholarship offers from Brigham Young University and Weber State, in her home state of Utah, and from New Mexico State University.
In boys 5A, Centennial’s Jayden Gunn was second in the discus (145-1), and Paul Whitelock was fifth in the pole vault (11-6).