If strength in numbers means your program is successful, then Juneau’s two high school cross country teams are tougher than the coastal mountains surrounding their town.
The Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears have nearly 50 runners practicing and the Thunder Mountain Falcons have laced up over 40.
“It is exciting to see so many young runners coming up,” Thunder Mountain coach Scott May said. “Between both schools it is close to 100 runners, and that has never happened before.”
Both programs are bottom heavy. They have more underclassmen than upperclassmen. The many young runners represent the progression of the elementary school marathon club and the local running community. The Southeast Road Runners noted the most entrants ever for a season.
“I think it says that we are a running community,” May said. “I think that the sport is growing in popularity and we are seeing that.”
The Falcons are the defending girls Region V champions and return senior captain Madie Hall and junior Naomi Welling.
Estie Dawson and Rhys Coffee graduated, Krysten Mossburg moved away, Dunya Hermann suffered an injury while competing with the Juneau Jumpers and Jessica Landry is undecided.
“So we have just two state returners,” May said. “Competitively, some of our freshmen are going to surprise people. Madie and Naomi are good role models.”
Hall qualified for the state championships as a sophomore and junior and just missed qualification as a freshman. She is working through an injury and has been unable to run for three weeks.
“I believe I pushed as hard as I could last year during the state meet,” Hall said. “But I feel like I didn’t run it very smart and I could have strategized it a bit more and been more efficient. I really want to get healthy again, get back to where I was and have a solid season. The team looks really good and this year looks great with so many new people coming out and trying this for the first time. It has a big team feel now.”
Welling qualified for the state championships as a freshman and sophomore and welcomes another opportunity to get to that venue on the Bartlett High School track in Anchorage.
“My goal, of course is to improve, and I would like to break 20 minutes in the 5K,” Welling said. “I got a course PR last year there,” Welling said. “I improved my rankings so I was happy with that. I would like to get another PR and get into the top 25. I am pretty excited because we have quite a few freshmen.”
Among the many Falcon newcomers is Hershey’s Track & Field Games North American finalist Erin Wallace, who is expected to fit right in with Hall and Welling. Sophomore Laurel Sheufelt has also impressed in the early practices.
“The team is young and very energetic,” Welling said. “There is lots of potential.”
The Falcons lone male state returner is senior Michael Lohrey, who has impressed with his summer and early practice runs. Graduated are state runners Nicolas Wright and Khalil English. Junior returner Luke Paden, the team’s No. 2 runner, is recovering from a summer accident.
“The team has been fun,” TMHS sophomore Ricardo Worl said. “I really like hanging out with all the people, and the training is really hard.”
Added classmate Gabe Crawford, “I am using it for conditioning for basketball. It is so hard working, it gets my legs going. It is tough but it is very good. We are running hills and doing everything you need to be fit and ready to go.”
The JDHS boys are the defending Region V champions and return all state qualifiers in senior captains Johnny Elliott and Riley Moser, juniors Alize Arthur, Brian Holst, and Harrison Bibb, and sophomores Corey Box and Russell “Igor” Healy.
The Crimson Bears have also added Skagway sophomore transfer Ethan Goebel to the mix. Goebel won last season’s 1A/2A/3A Region V Track & Field titles in the 800, 1600 and 3200 meter races.
At a recent co-practice time trial, JDHS’ Moser, Goebel, Holst and TMHS’ Lohrey finished 1-4 in a two-mile run.
Like many of the local high school runners, Goebel also attended the Lynn Canal Running Camp in Juneau. Runners also went to camps in the Lower 48 and Canada.
The Crimson Bears took 36 runners on a Yukon retreat on Aug. 14-17 and ran on trails in Skagway, Carcross and Whitehorse.
The JDHS girls return state qualifiers, junior captain Katline Barrows and sophomore Jessie Gregg. Graduated are Eliza Walker and Amelia Tamone. Captain Leah Leibelt is injured and will miss the season.
Early bright spots have been junior captain Toma Kimlinger and Maddy Handley, sophomores Abby Watts and Claire Uchtyl, and a host of their classmates and underclassmen.
The number of runners means that not all can score in a meet. Just the top seven boys and seven girls are counted for each team.
There is only one home meet this season, the Juneau Invitational on Aug. 30 on the Sandy Beach Treadwell Mines Trails.
TMHS and JDHS then travel to Skagway (Sept. 5), Petersburg (Sept. 13), Sitka (Sept. 20) and Ketchikan for the Region V Championships (Sept. 28). The state championships are at Anchorage’s Bartlett High School (Oct. 4).
The school district pays for 14 runners from each school to travel to away meets and for the state qualifiers.
Finances limit the number of runners that can travel, so the teams raise money to allow other runners to make the trips.
“The beauty is that anybody that meets our criteria can travel,” May said. “It doesn’t matter how competitive you are or not, if you have a pair of shoes you can participate. Whatever number we bring over 14 we pay for.”
Both teams plan to travel with up to 30 runners. The criteria for being in a race includes being able to run a 5K without walking, having good grades, making practices, and being compliant with the team rules.
Senior boys: Johnny Elliott (captain), Moser (captain), Calvin Zuelow,
Senior girls: Alicia Norton, Rachel Rivers, Briana Sievenpiper,
Junior boys: Arthur, Bibb, Dante Bonaccorso, Zach Hebert, Holst, Noah Machakos, James Cheng, Corbin Mitchell, Duncan Smith, Soren Thompson.
Junior girls: Handley, Kimlinger (captain), Jeran Willis, Barrows (captain), Katie Buchanen, Rebecca Buchhardt, Gaea Turman.
Sophomore boys: Box, Goebel, Healy, Simon Marks, Rogelio “Marshall” Murray-Shapland, Jack White, Matthew Woodland, Ben Underraga.
Sophomore girls: Jessie Gregg, McLain Sidmore, Uchtyl, Kelsey Walsh, Raven Ward, Watts, Nelli Wayne.
Freshmen boys: Noah Brakel, Henry Cheng, Tim McKenna, Brysen Mitchell, and Christopher Nylen.
Freshmen girls: Leah Bibb, Rebecca Marx, Ashleigh Neal, Gillian Smith, Victoria Wilcox, Maddie York.
Note: Leah Liebelt is also a captain but is injured and will miss the season.
Senior boys: Jamie Barnhill, Landon Johnson, Lohrey, Brendan Pietz (captain).
Senior girls: Hall (captain), Landry, Sarah Morris.
Junior boys: Hassam Bazil, Obadiah Dawson, Ben Garrett, Sam Johnson, Ben Landes, Paden, Mohamed Sammour, Max Suzuki.
Junior girls: Welling.
Sophomore boys: Jacob Cambell, Crawford, Bradley Gilbert, James Morris, John Morris, Cain Ramsey, Masen Smith, William Wallace, Worl.
Sophomore girls: Laurel Sheufelt.
Freshman boys: Michael Alon, Ben Campbell, Caleb Deer, Kris Giles, Jonah Penrose, Trevor Perov, Shafer Suzuki.
Freshmen girls: Kayla Duncan, Mia Hines, Moiraann Johnson, Willa Madden, Mikayla May, Tara Nelson, Meghan Penrose, Anna Rivest, Ronnie Salter, Summer Smith, Erin Wallace.