Juneau-Douglas returns a balanced and deep track and field team looking to improve on last year’s eighth- and 12th-place finishes for the girls’ and boys’ teams at the state track and field championships.
JDHS has about 55 kids this year, and coach Janette Gagnon thinks the Crimson Bears boast a lot of depth and balance to cover nearly every event. This year’s captains on the boys’ side are seniors Zach Bursell, Andre Bunton and Jesse Miller. And Maya Rieselbach, Karissa Jackson, and Emily and Samantha Sharp will lead the girls.
“This season is looking really great. We’re actually out here on the track pretty early. The city plowed the track for us, which made it really easy for us to get out here even though there was a layer of ice on it,” Gagnon said. “And the team is looking really good. We have a strong team — a big team — and the events feel widely covered, so that’s making me feel optimistic about our depth.”
The Crimson Bears’ top returnee is hurdles extraordinaire Emily Sharp, with the senior aiming for that elusive state title. A day after breaking the state 100-meter hurdles record during the prelims at last year’s track and field state championships, she was beaten out in the finals by two-tenths of a second by Dimond’s Keiahanna Engel, who also returns this year, setting up another potential showdown for the gold medal.
Sister Samantha and Jackson also give the JDHS girls added depth in the hurdles, which should be their strongest events this season.
“Emily got second in both the 100 hurdles and the 300 hurdles at state last year,” Gagnon said. “And Samantha made the finals for the 300 hurdles, which was very impressive for her. We’re hoping she’ll make the finals in both hurdles races for us this year.”
Gagnon said the strongest events for the boys will be the distance events, with several of the cross-country runners coming over to the track. The JDHS boys’ cross-country team finished fourth at state in the fall.
“The boys’ distance team is looking really good and they’re coming off a strong cross-country season,” she said. “A lot of them have come to track and they’re looking to do well in the distance and relay events. David Francis is healthy, and we’re really looking forward to him adding to those teams.
“And Jesse Miller is exploring some of the different relays,” she continued. “It’s a feeling out process right now because a lot of the kids can do more than four events, but we need to figure out what the best four events are for them and for the team as a whole.”
Gagnon said the boys’ team is talented but unproven in the throws, and she’d love to have some of the school’s younger guys come out and give the discus and shot put a try.
“The only glaring hole is we have senior boys out again for throwing, and I just wish I had them three years ago,” she quipped. “If there are any freshmen, sophomores or juniors who want to come out and learn to throw, we’d love to have you more than one season. But right now, we’re feeling really comfortable that we have kids in most events across the board.”
“It’s great to have these seniors out,” throwing coach Kevin Hamrick added, “but it sure would be nice to have them for a couple of years. We have a lot of talent in this community, but the shot and disc requires quite a bit of technique. But Bobby Simpson and Sean Kelly are big, strong kids with a lot of talent and natural ability. I do have one freshman, Neal Chapman, and I’m really excited about having him, but he needs some company.
“We have four boys and three girls, and my girls are great because I have two freshmen and a sophomore. If they stick with it, they’ll be great.”
Gagnon said the while hurdles are the girls’ strongest events, they are the weak link on the boys’ side. Bunton, Jesse Miller and Alec Calloway are the team’s jump experts in the long, triple and high jumps, respectively.
Bunton said the team is excited to see what lies ahead.
“This season is really promising because last year we weren’t too dependent on our upperclassmen, so we still have all our strongest (athletes) holding up the team this year,” he said. “We need more freshmen and sophomores, though, and we don’t have many new people. For the guys, we’re really strong in the mid-distance and distance areas. Jumping, we’re up there, but we’re lacking in throwing, sprinting and hurdling.”
Amanda Roemeling, Esra Siddeek, Carly Gunnerson and Jean Cumlat will handle the jumping duties for the JDHS girls.
Gagnon and Jackson both like the girls’ chances in the sprinting events, in addition to the hurdles.
“It feels like we have a lot of strong sprint girls who are all right together. There are a couple of standouts with Esra (Siddeek) and Maya (Rieselback), but there are a lot of girls right behind them that can keep our relays strong, even if we have some injuries” Gagnon said. “I think we’ll have good, strong relays every week.”
Jackson agreed, and likes the girls’ relay chances.
“We have quite a few girls this year. Not as many as last year but we do have some newcomers,” she said. “We’re well-balanced and we have the top hurdlers. We don’t have the strongest distance team, with just four or five girls, but they’re getting faster. They were fast in cross-country, so they should be pretty good this year. And we have a lot of sprinters and mid-distance runners that should be really good. I personally feel we’ll be good in relays. We have a lot of good people coming back that know the ropes.”
The Bears will miss a lot of seniors this weekend because of a calculus camp, but the season begins today with a meet in Sitka featuring the host Wolves, JDHS and Thunder Mountain, with Haines, Petersburg, Metlakatla, Ketchikan, Mt. Edgecumbe and Yakutat also invited to compete.