School isn’t in session yet, but high school cross country season is already here.
This season, the Thunder Mountain High School team says goodbye to their coach, Scott May, who announced this year is his last coaching the Falcons. This season, May will guide a girls team with lots of potential and a new-look boys team.
Everything appears to be in a place for another Region V sweep for the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears. With strong leadership and young talent, both the boys and girls are reaching for the podium at the state meet.
May and the boys teams
As May prepares his team for this month’s Juneau Invitational, he’s also looking forward to life post-coaching. After eight years running the Falcons cross country and track teams — the Boston Marathon finisher is ready to take back his spring and fall. He will continue to teach at Riverbend Elementary.
May got his coaching with the Juneau-Douglas High School track team in the early 2000s, and jumped teams with the establishment of TMHS athletics program in 2010.
He’ll still have one more track and field season to look forward to. He says he’s gotten a lot out of his eight seasons with the Falcons cross country team.
“I’m more able and more likely to go out and be with the kids with cross country,” May said. “Whereas in track, there’s just no way. I’m just going in all different directions. The cross country groups tend to be smaller, and therefore you can connect more with each one of the kids.”
May has coached numerous state champion milers at TMHS and JDHS. Even with the blessing of Naomi Welling and Maddie Hall, establishing a viable cross country team at TMHS got off to a shaky start.
“I’ve got all kinds of stories (about that first season),” May said of the inaugural Falcons team, which numbered under 10. “After the first race … one kid came up and showed me a picture, I was like, ‘Was that during the race?’ and the kid was going like this (nodding),’ and so he had stopped to pose for a picture during the race. And so it was like, ‘We don’t do that.’ Instead of dissecting splits and times, it was really like, ‘We don’t stop and pose for pictures during races.’”
Now, through May’s holistic coaching philosophy that focuses on healthy lifestyle habits, he recruits an energized group every fall.
“Everything’s been leading up to this,” captain Shafer Suzuki said. “From freshman, I was looking forward to senior year, because I knew I’d be helping lead the team and guide it in a direction where we can be successful.”
Suzuki — a fixture in the program over the last three seasons —is projected to be the boys team’s top point-getter this season.
Two of the best distance runners in the state, sophomore James Burger and senior Jonah Penrose, moved away over the summer.
Burger and Penrose’s biggest challengers on the JDHS track team, juniors Arnie Ellefson Carnes and Shadrach Stitz, will be front and center for the Crimson Bears boys cross country team.
Stitz, along with senior Tim McKenna, were named the captains for the JDHS boys squad. With a roster that is bottom heavy with freshman, Stitz will help befriend the newcomers.
“I just like to laugh a lot more than other people and so I think it makes the sport feel more welcoming,” Stitz said.
Three of last year’s underclassman made it to the state meet: Aaron Blust, Kadin Doddridge and Clem Taylor-Roth.
Junior soccer player Sally Thompson, like Clem Taylor-Roth for the JDHS boys team, found her stride last season with the TMHS girls team.
“We don’t have any one superstar, but we have a really solid pack of five,” May said of his girl’s side.
Those five include Thompson, Erin Wallace, Reece Bleakley, Hannah Deer and Ellie Knapp. However, Bleakley, Deer and Knapp are all underclassmen, and Wallace has been nursing a foot injury since the spring.
“It’s been a little bit difficult just starting off because we don’t have that anchor (senior Erin Wallace) but we have a lot of young talent so I think it will be fun to see how far everyone comes,” Thompson said.
The TMHS girls have won the Region V meet twice — in 2012 and 2013. Besides those two years, the Crimson Bears girls have won it every year going back to the early 1990s.
If Wallace can return to health, the Falcon girls have a shot to take the region, but the JDHS girls team have plenty of ammo themselves, namely the 2016 state cross country champion Sadie Tuckwood. The reigning Gatorade Girls Cross Country Athlete of the Year was first across the finish line in every race she ran in last season.
In her first meet, the Ketchikan Invitational, Tuckwood won, but coach’s Merry Ellefson and Tristian Knutson-Lombardo sensed she held back.
“After her first race, we were like, ‘I think she can go a little faster,’” Knutson-Lombardo said with a chuckle.
The next meet in Petersburg she lopped off a minute and a half from her 5K time.
She won every meet — including her 18:16 at the state cross country championships.
“She’s kind of quietly tenacious about her own goals,” Ellefson said. “She totally revs up the whole team and has really connected with a core group of our leaders to … reinvigorate this team in a new way.”
Anna Iverson, Gillian Smith and Sosan Monsef will also be major contributors on the team this season.
“One thing I have really noticed is we have a lot of new talent coming in. It was the same thing last year, we had a lot of freshman girls make varsity and two freshman boys who made varsity,” senior captain Smith said. “It’s going to push the older kids to do better for themselves, but it’s also going to make us a really tight pack who can continue to do well in races this season.”
2017 Region V Cross
Aug. 26 Juneau Invitational Meet, Treadwell Mine Historic Trail
Sept. 2 at Palmer Invitational/Haines Invitational
Sept. 9 at Wrangell Invitational
Sept. 16 at Sitka Invitational
Sept. 23 at Region V Championships in Ketchikan
Sept. 30 at Alaska state cross country championships at Bartlett High School
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or email@example.com.