Crimson Bears junior Leah Francis defended her three state titles by sweeping the 800-, 1600- and 3200-meter girls events to provide the Juneau-Douglas High School track and field team's only titles during a strong showing at the 18-team Skyview Invitational over the weekend.
The JDHS girls, led by Francis, eventually finished fifth out of 17 girls teams with 75.2 total points on the weekend. The boys placed eighth out of 18 teams with 33 total points, led by a pair of top-four finishes from distance runner Zach Bursell.
Francis, who is also the reigning and three-time 4A girls state cross country champion, posted the state's fastest mark in the 1600 thus far this season, crossing the finish line in 5:22.69. That mark helped her to win the Skyview event by nearly 7.5 seconds over Soldotna's Bree Mucha. The time also put her ahead of Eagle River's Kristen King by nearly six seconds for the season's top mark. King set her time of 5:28.45 at the Anchorage School District's Big Eight Meet on April 18.
Francis entered each of her title events ranked out of the top spot according to times thus far this season, but took the 3200 crown from a hometown girl - Skyview's Ivy O'Guinn. Francis' time of 11:47.36 eventually topped O'Guinn by nearly six seconds in the event.
The 800 proved to be Francis' closest event of the day, as she needed a late charge to again edge O'Guinn by just eight-tenths of a second in 2:25.31.
Junior Annette Highley and sophomore Emily Sharp contributed second-place finishes in their own respective events for the JDHS girls. Highley's mark of 33'2" in the shot put surprised even her coaches, as it marked a full three-foot improvement over her past personal record.
"That was really interesting," JDHS co-coach Scott May said. "As soon as she threw it, it started snowing. We had to joke around after that about how hard she really did throw it. We expected her to do well, but not that well."
Highley's distance toss was the state's sixth-best this season and was topped on the day by only Kenai Central's Adriana Taylor - the holder of the state's third-best mark at an even 35".
Sharp continued her strong showings in the 100-meter hurdles event this spring, finishing in 16.92 behind only state-leader Anna Simmers of Anchorage Christian. Sharp won the event in Ketchikan to open the season a week prior.
Emily's sister, Samantha Sharp finished fifth in the event.
Bursell paced the JDHS boys with a third-place showing in the 3200 and a fourth-place mark in the 1600. Bursell, a sophomore, finished just seven seconds outside of the top spot in the 3200 with a time of 10:13.58. He was also less than five seconds out in the 1600 with a time of 4:50.76.
Sophomore Eric Ashenfelter also had a strong showing for the Bears, placing fourth in the shot put with a distance of 42'2.5". His senior teammate and team captain Robert Partin finished directly behind in fifth place, heaving his shot 40'5".
"Those were both big (personal records) for those guys," May said. "Neither of them had broken 40 (feet) and that's a big mark for a shot putter.
The boys performed at the meet without top sprinter Jeff Cordle, who was at the annual music festival. In all, the JDHS club was without "6 or 7" regular contributors due to the festival, according to May.
The meet was originally scheduled to include as many as 21 teams, but the most popular events were still just as packed as in past Skyview meets. One of the most popular, the boys 200-meter race, featured 51 competitors.
The meet also featured wet, windy and even snowy conditions that hindered most competitions in one way or another.
"We actually had a number of (personal records) and it wasn't the greatest of weather at all," May said. "So it was really neat to get those."
The JDHS teams resume their schedule this weekend by hosting the annual Juneau Invitational. That is, after the team, coaches and donated city equipment clear the final layers of ice and snow.
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