If past races can predict the future, Juneau-Douglas High School junior Tristan Knutson-Lombardo will grab the lead shortly after the gun goes off for the boys 1,600 meters this weekend.
Following close behind Knutson-Lombardo should be sophomore twins Tyler and Wesley Dinnan, who won't be more than one or two strides behind their teammate. The twins may swap positions during the race, but when the race ends all three runners should post times in the 4-minute, 30-seconds range and be well in front of the rest of their competitors.
That trio of runners ranks among the state's best in the three distance events - the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 - and they will be big keys for the Crimson Bears when they host the Region V Track and Field Championships today and Saturday at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. Events start at 2 p.m. today, with the high jump at 7 p.m. at the Juneau-Douglas High School auxiliary gym. Saturday's events start at 10 a.m. at Adair-Kennedy.
The champions in each event from each of the state's six regions earn automatic berths to the state meet May 21-22 at Anchorage's Bartlett High School. Also qualifying for state will be those athletes who post the next best 10 performances at large (or next 11 at large if there is no Region I representative - the region rarely holds track events) for 16 total entrants. In the relays, the region champions qualify and so do the next two or three best teams at large for eight total entrants.
Knutson-Lombardo holds the state's top time in the 1,600 - a 4:27.82 from last weekend's Kodiak Invitational - and the twins have both been ranked among the state's top six in the event at times this season. Last month, the three Juneau distance runners were the only Crimson Bears to compete in the 20-team Skyview Invitational and they scored well enough to finish in fifth place overall.
"You've always got that factor that if you falter, there's another guy to take over," said Knutson-Lombardo, whose best time is better than the 1991 region meet record of 4:30.89 set by Sitka's Gary Smith. "It's been great because the last couple of weeks we've been training hard, and once we start our taper hopefully we'll be able to surprise some people."
While Knutson-Lombardo has been the trio's leader most of the past two cross-country running and track seasons, the twins have closed the gap. Those three led Juneau's boys to the state cross-country running team title in September, and they'd like to see where they can take the track team.
At last weekend's Kodiak meet, Tyler Dinnan beat Knutson-Lombardo in the 800 with a personal-record time of 2:01.8, a time that ranks sixth in the state. In the 3,200, Knutson-Lombardo finished second to Kodiak's Stig Yngve - the state's top 3,200 runner - in 9:46.77 (third in the state). But their pace was so fast it helped pull Wesley Dinnan to a personal-record time of 9:54.84 (fourth in the state), his first sub-10-minute 3,200.
"That's sort of been one of the things I've wanted to do. The whole year I felt like I could do it," Tyler Dinnan said of his first victory over Knutson-Lombardo. "That was a PR by three seconds, I was expecting a 2:03 in the 800."
"I didn't expect to run that fast in the two-mile (two miles is 3,218 meters)," said Wesley Dinnan, whose previous best was 10:10.59. "I was thinking I'd probably be about 10:10 or 10-flat by state."
While the distance trio should make state in all of its events, Juneau also has some strong contenders for region titles and state berths in other events this weekend.
Senior sprinter Jason Lunasin is tied for sixth in the state in the 200 meters, and he also is favored to win the 100 and be a top contender in the long jump.
Senior Toni Talamai won both the shot put and discus at the Juneau Invitational two weeks ago and the shot put last week in Kodiak, plus he won the 110-meter high hurdles at the Juneau Invite. Talamai holds the region's top season performances in those events this year, but he's being pushed by a couple of teammates.
Junior thrower-hurdler Jason Lehauli won the shot put, 110 hurdles and 300 intermediate hurdles last weekend at the Haines Invitational, and junior Mychal Hutcherson also is competing in the throwing and hurdling events. All three have broken 42 feet in the shot put this season (Talamai's best is 45-1 3/4, Lehauli's is 43-0 and Hutcherson's is 42-1).
"I just throw and see how good I do," said Lehauli, who was Juneau's male athlete of the meet in Haines. "I probably can (do better) since I'm working with everyone. I was just playing around and threw 43.
"At first I didn't think I'd do that well, but coach has been practicing me on my drag leg so it's not getting caught on the hurdles."
In the girls events, Juneau's strongest contenders include junior sprinter-jumper Mary Rehfeld and the sprinter duo of junior Heather Bennett and freshman Evelyn Fisher.
Rehfeld held the state's top triple jump mark a week ago and now ranks fourth at 33-5 3/4. Bennett - who made finals at state last year in the 100 and 200 - and Fisher were ranked second (1:02.88) and third (1:03.10) in the 400 a week ago before several new times dropped Bennett to sixth and Fisher out of this week's rankings.
Another top contender for the Crimson Bears is senior thrower Lyssa Mikesell, who won the shot put and discus at the Juneau Invitational and the shot put at Haines last week.
This track season, Juneau's female distance corps has been decimated by soccer, overseas study trips and injuries. But the Crimson Bears got Megan Bush back from a hip injury last week so she could win the 1,600 and 3,200 at the Haines meet, and this week sophomore Carly Craig returns from shin splints.
"I overused my hip tendon playing soccer and running track," Bush said. "I'm ready. It hasn't been hurting all week. That was my first meet trying to go out and compete, and I definitely want to get better. I got my confidence back. I know I don't have to hold back now."
Juneau isn't the only Southeast team to have athletes ranked among the state's top six in their events.
Sitka sophomore Dianne Chong holds the state's best this season in the girls long jump at 16-9, while Kim Ferrin of Haines ranks third at 16-3 1/2. In the girls triple jump, Haines senior Lilly Ward, who won a state title two years ago, ranks second at 33-9 3/4 and Ferrin is sixth at 33-3 1/2.
Sitka senior Greg Hunter is part of a six-way tie for second in the state in the boys high jump at 6-0, an inch behind the leader. Sitka junior George Wathen ranks fourth in the long jump at 20-4, but he also is a member of the Wolves' baseball team that hosts Ketchikan this weekend. If Wathen chooses to play baseball this week, he won't be able to qualify for state in track since all berths are determined by the region meets.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.