The hardest part after qualifying for the ASAA Cross Country Running Championships is a stretch of trail about 3.2 miles long, nestled in among trees, hills, mud, screaming fans, hills, rain, and, well, hills.
The Bartlett High School Trails are one of the hardest courses in the state, which is only fitting then that it is where months of hard work either result in a satisfying run or end with a rear-kicking experience.
“It is really hard to tell how we are going to do as a team,” Thunder Mountain coach Scott May said. “I’ve compared times, and we’re a lot slower as a team than the other 4A schools, but I’m not sure how much more difficult or not, our course is than the other Region’s.”
Last season, the best female runner in the state, Kenai’s Allie Ostrander fell victim to the trails. Ostrander had cruised to wins in every race and won the Region III title. She was the favorite, until the Bartlett Trails. Feeling under the weather, Ostrander was beaten by the hills, was dehydrated and walked to the finish where an ambulance whisked her away.
“We have spent a lot of time talking about how to run the hills there,” May said. “Lots of hills that are short and rolling.”
May stated the Falcons have trained all year to use momentum to get part way up, then shorten stride and work arms, trying to maintain consistent effort output, working over the crests and using gravity down.
“Our kids did very well with the Treadwell Hills,” May said. “And they have confidence now. We’ve told them that there is no pressure or expectations. Additionally, we told them to go out and run smart races and see what happen.”
May said the Falcons will use internal body scans, that is, they will be checking inward, to observe how they are feeling strength, fatigue, and breathing wise, rather than trying to run with a particular person
This is the first state meet for all but one of his Region V Championship team. Katie Jones ran the trails last season, if she can impart some wisdom from that to speedsters Maddie Hall and Naomi Welling they might challenge for top 15. Senior Marella Gungob will pace Jones.
For the Crimson Bears girls, Lily Pothier will be capping off her Senior season after a very strong performance at the region meet.
A mid-season injury kept Pothier from the state meet last year, although she was one of the team’s top runners.
“She’s hungry for a solid race this year,” JDHS co-coach Merry Ellefson said. “Now that she has closed the gap on Naomi, she’ll have a great partner to work with and queue off of during the race.”
Junior Eliza Walker and freshmen Maddie Handley and Katline Barrows, will have a good opportunity to work together and pace off of team leader Pothier. Handley and Barrows, along with Welling, are making the first of what is expected to be four appearances at the State Meet.
“They know that this race will be a bit faster than most SE meets,” Ellefson said. “But it’s a good opportunity for them to be exposed to this kind of environment as first year runners, and then use that experience the next three years to lead a whole new pack of JDHS girls to solid state meet performances.”
For the girls though, Kenai’s Allie Ostrander won her second Region III title last weekend in 18:10 and the sophomore is determined to trail blaze the course.
On the boy’s side, Crimson Bears’ senior Tal Norvell is the best bet for another top 10 state finish. Last season he just made the cut on a course that teammate David Francis was controlling until the final 200 yards.
“This year Tal is looking tougher and faster than ever,” JDHS co-coach Tristan Knutson- Lombardo said. “Both Merry and I have noted that Tal is one of the toughest runners out their. He’s not afraid to get out their with the state’s best and mix it up.”
The JDHS coaches stated they would like to see Norvell and sophomore Riley Moser work together at the start.
According to Knutson-Lombardo, A strong, yet conservative start at the beginning of the race means that after 200 meters, as they’re heading up the first hill, they should be finding themselves somewhere in the top 20-25.
Some of the runners this weekend will start hard and then find themselves struggling to turn it over the last kilometer after battling 4 kilometers of rolling hills.
“If Tal and Riley can position themselves near the front and let others around them do the work that first kilometer, they’ll be able to surge that last kilometer and use those energy reserves to finish strong,” Knutson-Lombardo said.
Senior Martin Woodby has been running powerfully and classmate Tommy Thompson, has continually been racing stronger and stronger each meet this year.
This is Woodby’s second year at the state meet and he’ll have sophomore Johnny Elliot, and freshmen Corbin Mitchell and Brian Holst queuing off him for respectable starts and pacing throughout the race.
“We’re looking for Martin and Johnny to lead our main pack of runners,” Tristan Knutson-Lombardo said. “Those two plus Corbin, Brian and Tommy should run together most of the race. This will be Tommy’s first and last appearance at the state meet. But after the races and efforts he’s put forth the last few weeks, we have no doubt he’ll be able to mix it up with the rest of his teammates.”
Falcons junior Khalil English is the blue, silver and black’s best chance to get into the top 10. If seniors James Steeves, Ben Travers and junior Nicolas Wright can stick together in a pack they may be able to gut out a respectable time.
What the southeast runners must not do is get sucked into a gut wrenching sprint at the beginning with Kodiak’s Levi Thomet who took the Region III boys title in 16:30.
If the lead Crimson Bears and Falcons can find a comfortable pace without losing sight of the top five runners then Southeast will have some bragging rights.
Speaking of bragging rights, if freshman wunderkind Taylee Nyquest form Thorne Bay, who has been training on logging roads all season and ran a 19:26 on Treadwell Mines Trails last Saturday, continues that pace than a state title is in sight.
Grace Christian’s Claire Trujillo put up a 19:46 at Region III for small schools and her teammates swept the next four positions.