Thunder Mountain cross-country is entering its third season of competition, and the Falcons are eager to take the next step toward the top of Region V.
TMHS graduated just three seniors from last year’s team and has 33 runners out this season, which begins Saturday on Juneau’s Treadwell Cross-Country Course at Savviko Park with the girls running at about 1 p.m.
“We have a lot of returning people from last year and we’re looking to pick up where we left off — building and growing and improving,” coach Scott May said. “Our focus is always on personal achievements, and we know what we did on all of the courses we ran on last year. We’re looking to improve individually on those courses again, and if the kids keep getting their personal bests, we’ll be more competitive just by nature.”
Among the returnees, James Steeves, Hugh Watts and Katie Jones all qualified for state last year.
Avery Stewart is the boys’ school record holder with a time of 17:51 in last year’s Region V Meet, and Jones is the girls’ record holder, clocking in at 21:33, also set in the region meet.
Stewart is not on the team this year after deciding to give football a try.
The Falcons’ conference climb suffered another big blow when sophomore Khalil English, who May said is one of the best he’s had in Juneau for his age, is likely out of the year with a stress fracture in his ankle.
“Our top guy is probably out for the season so that’s tough,” May admitted. “He gave Zach Bursell a run for his money in almost every race last year. He had already come in doing sub-18 (minutes), and he won the Governor’s Cup.
“To lose him is a huge loss for us, but our strength with the guys is we have a core group that’s returning.”
May said that core group is close time-wise and getting better.
“They were kind of in the middle of the pack last year but they’ll be moving up,” he said. “We don’t have any one superstar, but we’re going to have a solid group of guys.”
English is in a boot for four weeks and even if he is able to make it back for the Region V Meet in Ketchikan on Sept. 24, he won’t be in top form.
“If he’s OK to go after the boot comes off,” May said, “he’ll barely make it back before the region meet.”
May pointed to newcomer and junior soccer import Stephen Ringle as adding a boost.
“He’ll be in our top five for sure,” he said. “He’s a great addition.”
Senior captain Wilson Suzuki said the boys’ team has a lot to build on this season.
“I definitely see three or four of our runners heading up to state this year,” he said. “We’ve been training really hard throughout the preseason. I’m really excited to see what’s going to come out of the first meet.”
Suzuki is entering his third year with the team, and he said he’s seen a tremendous amount of growth and improvement from two years ago.
“We’ve come a long way from the first year, when we were just kind of starting off and didn’t really know what we were doing, other than coach May,” he said. “Now that our program’s established, the veteran runners like myself and James and Katie, we have goals. We’re shooting for our (personal records) and a lot the runners on the team want to make state.”
Injuries also have hit the girls’ side, with Jones and senior Cathy Mattson both nursing bangs and bruises.
“Our fastest guy and arguably our two fastest girls are all injured, but we hope to get Cathy and Katie back soon,” May said. “Cathy will miss the home opener but I’m hoping she’ll be with us for our second meet in Wrangell.”
Junior co-captain Ashlynn Kay said the team is looking strong and improving each day.
“We have 10 girls this year and had nine last year, and we have some pretty good runners,” she said. “Katie is still holding the top for the girls and even though she’s been injured, I think she’ll be strong this weekend. She’ll probably set a PR and a new school record.
“I’m confident that we have a strong team and we hope to place up next to JDHS this year.”
The Falcons open the season Saturday in the Juneau invite on the Treadwell Cross-Country Course. Thunder Mountain is at Wrangell on Sept. 3, Haines on Sept. 9, Metlakatla on Sept. 10 and Mt. Edgecumbe on Sept. 16 before heading to Ketchikan for the Region V Meet on Sept. 24.
“We’re just looking for that continued improvement,” May said. “With running, you gain wisdom every time you go out and do a meet. These guys have a lot of meets under their belts and they’re running smarter, and they’re better conditioned. We’re looking forward to being even more competitive than we were last year.”
Kay said the home course might be the toughest on the schedule this season.
“It’s definitely one of the toughest courses (in Southeast), and I’m really excited to run it,” she said. “There are going to be a lot of teams in town. Whitehorse is also coming, and there should be about 12 teams. It’s going to be really tough because of so many people here running, but really exciting.”
Suzuki said the team ran a time trial over the weekend to prepare for this week’s meet.
“I’m not expecting to PR on that course, but we hope to see several others set their PRs,” he said. “This is a chance for us to scope out the competition and see what the other teams look like.”
May said the home course will be a good experience to build off.
“Hopefully all of the other courses will seem easy to them after that,” he said. “We have never run Haines since our program started so it will be interesting to see what that course is like. We set a lot of PRs at Ketchikan last year, and that’s where the region meet is this year.
“We look forward to finishing the season and peaking in Ketchikan.”