Jason Lunasin always meant to go out for the Juneau-Douglas High School track and field team, but something always came up to keep him away.
After three years of working and taking care of family obligations, Lunasin finally found time for track this year as a rookie senior. And as the Crimson Bears prepare to host this weekend's Juneau Invitational - Southeast's largest regular-season track meet - Lunasin has become the team's top sprinter and distance jumper.
"It is a nice surprise," Juneau coach Scott May said. "Usually we're losing (athletes to injury or moves), so it was about time we had a gain. He's a good kid and he's really added to the balance of the team. This is the first time I've felt we've had potential winners in each event."
The Juneau Invitational starts at 2 p.m. today at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park with event preliminaries in the sprints and hurdles and finals in the long jump, shot put, 800-meter run, 3,200-meter run and 800-meter relay. The high jump finals are at 6:30 p.m. today at Juneau-Douglas High School. On Saturday, events start at 9 a.m. at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park and will feature finals in the remaining events. May expects about 200 athletes will compete this weekend.
Lunasin hadn't competed before and he was well below the radar early this season when gym teachers submitted lists of kids to the track coaches as possible athletes for the team. But a couple of his teammates suggested Lunasin try out for the team.
In the first week of practice, May said Lunasin caught his eye.
"I could tell he was quick, because you can tell a kid with fast-twitch muscles," May said. "He was one of several I had my eye on."
But he had no idea Lunasin was capable of what he did two weeks ago at the Sitka Invitational, the season-opener for Southeast teams. Jumping in a pair of training flats because the track spikes he'd ordered hadn't arrived in time, Lunasin won the long jump with a leap of 18 feet, 4 3/4 inches. He also took fourth place in the triple jump with a leap of 35-3 1/4.
But it was the 100-meter dash where Lunasin really made his mark. Wearing a pair of borrowed spikes, Lunasin won the race in 11.75 seconds. That beat the 12.18 turned in last year - in better weather - by eventual state champion Ernest Monts of Juneau. The time even caught Lunasin off guard; he said runner-up Greg Hunter of Sitka (11.87) and third-place finisher Toni Talamai of Juneau (12.06) were out of his peripheral vision.
"I was surprised," Lunasin said of the time. "Now I kind of wish I'd done all four years. I just run as fast as I can. I knew I was fast, but not that much. I'm having lots of fun."
"That was amazing," Talamai said. "He was pretty fast in practice, but not like this."
This weekend, Lunasin plans to compete in the 100, the 200, the long jump and the triple jump.
Talamai is another track and field crossover athlete, and he'll compete in the 110-meter high hurdles, the shot put, the discus and the 400-meter relay. Talamai won both throwing events at the Sitka meet, and fellow senior Lyssa Mikesell won the girls discus and took second place in the shot. Both Juneau throwers seek victories this week, and they're looking to move into the list of the state's top throwers.
"I think I've done better than I have in the past," Mikesell said. "But I've still got a ways to go. I haven't had as much heart as I have this year."
"I'm ready," said Talamai, who said he's looking to make big improvements in his hurdle race; Sitka didn't have any hurdle events. "Last year I did 18-something, and this year I did 16.34 (seconds) in practice."
Others to watch this week include Juneau's distance trio of junior Tristan Knutson-Lombardo and sophomore twins Tyler and Wesley Dinnan. Knutson-Lombardo has the state's top time in the 1,600 meters and is second in both the 800 and the 3,200. Tyler Dinnan ranks fourth in the 800 and sixth in the 1,600 (despite losing a shoe midway through the race), while Wesley Dinnan ranks fifth in the 3,200.
Junior Heather Bennett, who placed in the 100 and 200 at the state meet last year, was sick and missed the Sitka Invitational but she's healthy this week and should be Juneau's top female sprinter. Bennett's top competition will come from Sitka's Dianne Chong, who won the 100 at the Sitka Invite, and Joy Ribao, who won the 200.
Chong also is tied for fifth statewide in the long jump and is sixth in the shot put. The only other Southeast athlete ranked statewide this week is Sitka high jumper Greg Hunter, who is tied for the top jump. The state rankings are on the Scoreboard on Page B2.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.