It’s been 21 years since the Juneau-Douglas boys’ team last missed the state track and field championships.
That streak is in serious jeopardy.
The Region V Track & Field Championships begin at 1 p.m. today at Thunder Mountain High School, and it’s the host Falcons who are threatening to break the Crimson Bears’ 4A Southeast stranglehold over Ketchikan, which has run longer than any seniors competing in the weekend’s 2A/3A and 4A events have been alive.
Thunder Mountain, the new player in the school’s second year of competition, is undefeated this season and the Bears are feeling the pressure. But coach Janette Gagnon thinks her boys are up to the task.
“I think the guys acknowledge that Thunder Mountain definitely has a strong team this year, and they have quite a bit of depth. My boys think it’s nice that they have a team that has been showing some domination but at the same time, they don’t want to be the team to lose to them,” she said. “It’s definitely a crosstown rivalry and I still have the boys that coach (Scott) May coached a few years ago. It’s bittersweet for them because they love to see him winning, but they also want to be the ones to keep winning.”
May said his team is as ready as it’s going to be.
“I think this is the first time in my 10 years of doing this that we’ve really had to strategize our lineups and really look at the region to see where the strengths and weaknesses are. And it’s been fun,” he said. “The kids are involved in the process and it’s kind of like a chess game.”
Gagnon admitted she’s a bit surprised that TMHS was able to come on so strong so quickly.
“To an extent, I am,” she said. “Last year, they had a pretty small team and there are a lot of newbies (this year). We weren’t surprised last year when we won significantly every weekend, but they have Alex (Tracy), who has moved here, and there are a couple of kids who are doing much better. They have a really good, strong team that’s holding the core together, and the rest of the team is following along.
“Coach May said he thought he had a strong team this year that was going to give us a run for our money,” she continued. “In the beginning I thought I was humoring him by saying, ‘OK, we’ll see.’ But he’s definitely put his money where his mouth is so we’ll have to see what happens.”
Between their boys’ teams, Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain have four individuals ranked in the state’s top 10 in three different events, and three relay teams ranked in the top 10 in two events. Ketchikan doesn’t have an athlete ranked in the top 10 of any event, boys or girls.
The Thunder Mountain boys currently hold the state’s best 4-x-100-meter relay time (44.95) by five-tenths of a second, and have the No. 3 4-x-200 relay (1:33.90). Sitting in the No. 4 spot is JDHS (1:35.50).
May said for his boys to win, it’s going to take a tremendous effort and a little bit of luck, and the relays and jumps will be key.
“The guys are excited to try and (win). They all know that it’s going to be close and nothing is given,” he said. “It’s been close all year long, and everybody has been working really hard. We’re going to try some things that hopefully will be a surprise, and I’m sure they’ll be doing the same thing. We’re all trying to figure out a way to hold on.
“Relays are always so tenuous because there are so many different variables that go into it,” he continued. “At almost every meet, at least one 4-x-100 or 4-x-200 team is disqualified. There is so much that can go wrong because it’s so fast. Those (relays) will be pivotal, as well our jumps because they’ve got Andre (Bunton) and Jesse (Miller), we have Alex, and they’re all in the top 10 in the state right now. The jumps are psychological and anyone of those three can win the long jump or triple jump.”
Miller currently holds the state’s fourth-best long jump (20 feet, 10 3/4 inches), while Tracy is sixth (20-2 1/2). Tracy holds the third-best triple jump (43-2 1/4), and Bunton is fifth (41-11).
“Andre is certainly capable of being up there (in the long jump),” May said, “and Alec Calloway has jumped over 19 this year. If he can get just a few more inches, he’d be up there, too.
“We don’t know who they’re going to put in there,” he continued. “We’re going to be strong in our sprints, and they’re going to be strong in the distance events with Zach (Bursell). So what we need to do is get some guys in behind him.”
The Region V 4A meet is scored differently than others since there are just three schools. Teams score five points for first, three for second, two for third and one for fourth.
“If they take first and we get second and third, we come out even in points,” May said. “We’re hoping to get some new folks in the weaker events up into that third and fourth position to get us some points.”
In less jeopardy is the JDHS girls’ streak of 26 consecutive Region V championships. The Bears have won all but one meet this season, finishing second last weekend in Haines after letting some of the girls rest and try new events.
“The girls are doing well and they really want to show that they’re a well-rounded team,” Gagnon said. “It’s 18 girls who will compete this weekend, and it’s been a solid core group that has been competing all season.
“They have really been there for each other and have been supportive,” she continued. “They know what their best events are, and they’ve been amazed when someone tries something new and finds out it’s a brand-new event for them. It’s really nice to see them meshing and coming together as we hit the regional meet.”
It’s one last go-round for senior Emily Sharp, who has dominated the hurdles in Southeast, setting the 100-meter hurdles state record last year in the state track and field championships, only to finish second a day later to Dimond’s Keiahnna Engel as Engel set yet another new record.
Sharp hasn’t competed the 300 hurdles this year, putting all her focus into the 100.
Sharp, along with sister Samantha Sharp and Karissa Jackson, will have the hurdles events locked down for the JDHS girls.
“It will be nice to see Emily and Samantha run a rout in the hurdle events, and then Karissa is trying both hurdle events for the second time,” Gagnon said. “All of our girls’ relays are really strong and it’s great to see them putting together some nice handoffs and really working together to up their times.”
Gagnon encouraged the community to come out and support the teams. In addition to JDHS, TMHS and Ketchikan, Sitka, Petersburg, Yakutat, Gustavus, Skagway and Haines will compete in the 2A/3A meet.
“This is regionals and a big part of our team is seniors. It would be great to have as much community support out there as possible,” she said. “There are going to be lots of records falling both with our team and Thunder Mountain, and the 2A and 3A schools have some amazing runners and jumpers and throwers. Anyone coming out to the track won’t be disappointed in what they see.”
The meet begins today with the field events at 1 p.m., running until after 6 p.m.
Things pick back up Saturday at 10 a.m., and run until after 3 p.m.