Some people might think the Juneau-Douglas High School track and field team is in a rebuilding year after losing two former state champions and several other key players to graduation.
But that's not the case.
The Crimson Bears have one of their biggest teams in years - 77 people are on the roster and more than 50 regularly show up for each practice - and there's a good group of younger athletes looking to have breakthrough seasons.
"It's a big number, it's huge," Juneau head coach Scott May said Friday after his team held an intrasquad pentathlon meet.
"We have a lot of new faces this year. All the coaches really recruited in the hallways, and the returning kids got a lot of people out. We're still figuring all that out (which events the individual athletes will compete in), but we've got a lot of kids trying different things."
The Crimson Bears open their season this weekend with the Sitka Invitational, which is held on a rough, dirt track and won't feature the hurdle events. There's a slim possibility some of the top Juneau athletes will head to the Skyview Invitational in Soldotna on April 23-25, but that meet may be canceled due to lingering snow. The Crimson Bears host the Juneau Invitational on April 30-May 1, then the top athletes will go to Kodiak and others will head to Haines the week of May 7-8. The Crimson Bears host the Region V Championships on May 14-15, and the state track meet is May 20-22 at Anchorage's Bartlett High School.
While Juneau will have a deep squad, the Crimson Bears only return two girls - junior sprinter Heather Bennett and junior distance jumper Mary Rehfeld - who went to state last year. There are more returning boys from the state team - junior distance runner Tristan Knutson-Lombardo, senior thrower/jumper Toni Talamai, junior sprinter Brian Felix, sophomore distance runner Tyler Dinnan, sophomore distance runner Wesley Dinnan and senior distance runner Tim Davin - but Juneau may lose Felix to a national football combine that takes place the same week as the state meet.
Seven Crimson Bears will serve as team captains, including four juniors. The senior captains are Davin, hurdler Will Horton and hurdler Heather Harris. The junior captains are Knutson-Lombardo, Rehfeld, Bennett and mid-distance runner Gwenn Miller. Felix declined a captaincy because of the football camp.
The Crimson Bears should be deep in the boys distance events and the girls sprints, with several athletes having the potential to make state. There are a couple of throwers and jumpers who also could break through. Last year the girls took 10th place at state and the boys were 12th.
"We have a strong team, it looks like," Harris said. "We've probably got a chance to compete and be competitive."
The boys distance team features several runners who helped the Crimson Bears win the state's cross-country running title in the fall. Knutson-Lombardo leads the distance pack - he's the team's fastest runner in the 400 meters through the 3,200, and he beat Felix in a 200-meter run on Friday - with the Dinnan twins, Davin, Greg Frank, Ray Huebschen and others having the potential to score points.
"We've had big turnouts before, but this is the longest it's lasted," Davin said. "Usually there will be a few people who don't last. With all the new freshmen and others, we're hoping to fill out our events."
"Our distance runners and the 4x800 will be strong this year with all our cross-country runners," said Knutson-Lombardo, who was sixth in the 1,600 meters and seventh in the 3,200 at state last year. "We've got some good carryover for next year, and that'll make us exceptionally strong next year."
Another strength is the girls sprints, where Bennett has dominated. Rehfeld, Harris and Miller will compete in some sprint events, while freshman Evelyn Fisher has run the team's fastest 400 and some other new people could surprise.
"I'm a lot more excited for this year," said Bennett, who was sixth in the 200 and seventh in the 100 last year. "My places were about the same last year (as in 2002), and I'm just really psyched for this year. I feel like I'll do a lot better."
"Last year I did nothing farther than the 400," said Miller, who had the top girls point total in the pentathlon (32-27 over Bennett) and plans to run the 800 and 300 hurdles this year. "I tried cross country and I think sprints aren't really for me."
One of the problems with so many new faces is some of the team members still don't know their teammates. The captains are trying to get the Crimson Bears together for pizza parties and other events to help them get to know each other.
"We lost a lot of seniors and we don't have as much team chemistry as last year," Rehfeld said. "It's hard (to develop) because this is such an individual sport. We fed off that leadership. I don't know if it's the amount of new faces. There's a few freshmen and we hadn't heard of them but they're fast. It (the chemistry) will come up gradually."
Juneau features a couple of veteran throwers in Talamai and senior Alyssa Mikesell, and during Friday's pentathlon Talamai was the top boys point scorer, beating senior newcomer Jason Lunasin 40-34. Junior Greg Chilton will lead the team in the jumps.
With such a large squad, there will be several people helping coach the Crimson Bears. May will be assisted by cross-country running coach Guy Thibodeau (sprints and relays), Kevin Hamrick (throws), Krysta Williams (distance jumps and hurdles), Janette Johnson (high jump and hurdles) and Myron Davis (starts). Other local athletes will volunteer their help when they can, including Dan Pardee (jumps), Lam Nguyen (hurdles) and Chris Wilkens (distance).
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS HIGH SCHOOL
TRACK AND FIELD TEAM
Here is the tentative roster of the Juneau-Douglas High School track and field team for the 2004 season.
Seniors - Bryan Cormick (sprints-throws), Tim Davin (distance), Heather Dillon (sprints-400), Kirk Fishel (distance), Coral Haffner (manager), Heather Harris (hurdles), Stephanie Hazel (hurdles), Will Horton (hurdles-400), Josh Laboca (sprints-jumps), Jason Lunasin (sprints-400), Alyssa Mikesell (throws), Rey Mueca (throws), An Nagels (general conditioning), Tim Peterson (200-400), Kerri Powers (distance), Mikaela Rodriguez (distance), Toni Talamai (throws-hurdles), Casey Walsh (sprints-400-high jump).
Juniors - Joel Adamson (sprints), Heather Bennett (sprints), Mike Bickmore (100-jumps), Megan Bush (distance), Greg Chilton (jumps), Anastasiya Fatiy (100), Brian Felix (sprints), Greg Frank (distance), Van-Marie Jackson (sprints), Tristan Knutson-Lombardo (distance), Josh Lehauli (sprints), Patrick Millard (sprints), Gwenn Miller (hurdles-400), Ben Olson (sprints), Mary Rehfeld (jumps-sprints), Kyle Russell (jumps-sprints), Elizabeth Stickel (sprints), Travis Wolfe (sprints-jumps).
Sophomores - Justin Behrends (throws), Carly Craig (distance-injured), Dylan Davis (sprints), Tyler Dinnan (distance), Wesley Dinnan (distance), Lexi Garvey (distance), Sarah Ginter (hurdles), Stephanie Hazel (TBA), Devon Kibby (sprints), Jan Michael Lee (throws), Sammy Legg (sprints-400), Jake Miller (sprints), Barry Moala (TBA), Juan Quintanilla (TBA), Emma Sandria (sprints-high jump), Ben Schlechter (hurdles-400), Maddy Swofford (throws), Jamel Verdadero (sprints), Matt Williams (sprints), Nathan Woodring (TBA), Grant Zwingleberg (distance-hurdles).
Freshmen - Sydney Akagi (distance), Rachelle Albay (sprints-jumps), Kannan Bausler (sprints), Holly Bennett (throws), Levi Benning (sprints), Joey Bosworth (distance), Kristine Burke (distance), Jill Carlile (TBA), Evelyn Fisher (sprints-400), Mark Gaceta (TBA), Alison Hadley (distance), Ray Huebschen (distance), Samson Keeney (throws), Owen Kelley (high jump), Abby Laguidao (sprints), Cordova Lewis (distance-long jump), Elizabeth Parker (TBA), Maryanne Soriano (TBA), Molly Trostel (distance), Gabrielle Vance (hurdles).