The Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain high school cross country teams have selected the top seven runners for each of their boys’ and girls’ packs to compete at this weekend’s Region V Championships in Sitka.
Three of last year’s individual region champs return: Crimson Bears junior Riley Moser won the 2012 boy’s 4A title, Falcons senior Maddie Hall took the 4A girls and Thorne Bay sophomore Taylee Nyquest the 3A girls.
Three of JDHS’ winning region boys’ team return: Moser, junior Johnny Elliott and sophomore Brian Holst.
Three of TMHS’ winning region girls’ team return: Hall, sophomore Naomi Welling and senior Estie Dawson.
JDHS coaches pick their region team based on participation, attendance and attitude, and performance.
“We first want to make sure someone is committed to the team, their teammates, and themselves throughout the season,” JDHS co-coach Tristan Knutson-Lombardo said. “Most of our team makes that qualification if they are still with us this far into the season. After that we look at performance over the course of the season and their trajectory going forward. Our last spots were really tight so we have some quality backup alternatives if somebody gets sick before this weekend or if we qualify a team for state and someone is injured.”
The JDHS boys’ team will be Moser, Elliot, Holst, sophomores Alize Arthur and Harrison Bibb and freshmen Corey Box and Igor Healy.
“The guys just need to keep doing what they have been doing,” Knutson-Lombardo said. “They have been racing really well, really strong. They are setting themselves up for a strong region meet. Ketchikan and Thunder Mountain have been getting stronger each meet but we are feeling confident. Our goal is not to change anything.”
Added co-coach Merry Ellefson, “We want Riley to continue to move forward and do what he needs to do to get his time down. He has been a good leader but we also need our other runners to close the gap on him.”
The Crimson Bears girls will be seniors Molly Tamone and Eliza Walker, sophomores Maddy Handley and Kat Barrows, and freshmen Jessica Gregg, Claire Uchytil and Abigail Watts. Walker, Barrows and Handley ran at regions last season.
“The girls are really close,” Knutson-Lombardo said. “Between all three schools it is close. We think we have strong depth and that will help us finish as a pack and hopefully just ahead in the team score. It is going to be tight, just like last year.”
The JDHS girls lost the team title by one point to TMHS, 32-33, with Ketchikan at 59.
“We really haven’t seen our full girls’ varsity,” Ellefson said. “It is going to be interesting to watch our freshmen step up to the rest of our pack. It is going to be exciting to see where Ketchikan and Thunder Mountain’s third runners factor in. The competition this year is really great.”
The Falcons chose their top seven runners per team from the last race before the regional championship.
The Falcons boys will send junior Michael Lohrey, seniors Khalil English and Nicolas Wright and sophomore Luke Paden. All ran in last season’s venue. Junior Brendan Pietz, and seniors Torrey Wiebe and Rafael Sales will join them.
The Falcons girls will be Hall, Welling, Dawson, sophomores Krysten Mossburg and Dunya Hermann, junior Jessica Landry and senior Rhys Coffee. Freshman Shannon Mason is the alternate.
Deciding factors can be heartbreaking but inspirational as well.
Coffee won a run-off against Mason along the Brotherhood Trails course this week as the two were never in the same weekend meet during the season.
They raced together until the final 100 meters.
“It is tough,” Thunder Mountain coach Scott May said. “There is a decent chance our girls team will qualify for state. It is a huge deal to go to regions because it could be a ticket to state, too. For a senior it would be sad she didn’t get to go, for a freshman it is sad because it is a great experience for an up-and-coming runner in her first year.”
Two alternates can be listed on a team’s roster even if they do not run in the region championships, and can travel to state as a substitute.
If someone has a lingering sickness or injury they would have to drop from the state roster.
For instance, shin splints wouldn’t improve in the five days between regions and state, according to May.
The Falcons’ Wright, English and Lohrey should finish in the boys Top 10 and Paden is close to that point.
“It is a real long shot for our boys,” May said. “They will be running for personal best times and whatever happens, happens. You run for position in these races. It is going to be a flat fast course so there is a lot of strategy to chase down the jerseys in front of you.”
Hall and Welling will run their own races at the front of the girls’ pack.
“Everybody else is going to have to be racing strategically,” May said. “Trying to put themselves in front of a different colored jersey and try not to get passed. I think our girls have a shot at this. It is going to be within six points between all three of the girls teams, anyone of those can win. We know what to expect and our girls are ready. I will meet with each of our runners. Each will have a specific task they will have to accomplish throughout the race and it will involve people in front of them and holding off people coming from behind.”
Ketchikan returns senior state qualifier Alexis Crellin to challenge in the girls’ top 10, as well as sophomore Sarah Cool and freshman Tori Seley. On the boys’ side, the Kings return state qualifying junior Chris Llanos and senior Jacob Guenther, as well as senior Alex Daniels (second at the Capital City Invite last weekend), Danish exchange student Frederik Bjergen and sophomores Sylvan Blankenship, Leif Svenson and Rudy Pankow.
The top 4A boys’ and girls’ teams and the top 10 individual boys and girls runners qualify for state.
A new process has been implemented for the smaller division championship. The top three 1/2/3A boys’ and girls’ teams qualify, but one of those teams has to be a 1/2A school. For instance, if Sitka, Mt. Edgecumbe and Petersburg finish in that order the Vikings would be dropped and the fastest 1/2A team would get the bid. Individually the top 15 boys’ and girls’ 1/2/3A finishers qualify for state.
Small school girls’ state representatives Nyquest, Petersburg’s Grace Weller and Fran Abbot, Haines’ Zayla Asquith-Heinz, Mt. Edgecumbe’s Jasmine Jemewouk, Craig’s Maggie Dinon and Sitka’s Sid Riggs return as do boys’ state small school reps Bryce Gerald (WRG), Kelsey Trojan (CRG) and Keegan Sundberg (HNS).
Nyquest is the girls’ favorite with Craig’s Aspen Hansen expected to compete for second with Weller, Riggs, Asquith-Heinz and Petersburg’s Diane Murph and Robyn Schwartz.
Sitka’s David Wilcox is the boys’ small school favorite on his home course and Gustavus’ Rowan Sharman, Hoonah’s Manny Rudke, Skagway’s Dominique Foote, Petersburg’s Tucker Hagerman and Mt. Edgecumbe’s James Simeonoff could challenge for top five positions.
Budgets have also hit cross-country. While the district used to pay for each qualifier to the state tournament, they now will only pay for 10 athletes per school.
“If an athlete has earned their spot to state we will take them,” Knutson-Lombardo said. “We’ll figure out the cost later.”
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