After winning the 2003 and 2004 state championships, the Juneau-Douglas High School boys cross-country running team knows what the ultimate goal is for this season.
The two-time defending state champs return a very deep squad eager to maintain their standard of excellence. The quest for a third state title starts Aug. 19-20 at the Bartlett Relays.
"It'd be sweet," Crimson Bears senior Wesley Dinnan said. "Three is kind of the goal. It'd be hard to put into words. It'd just think it's be really cool to go out with one more."
Dinnan, along with his twin brother Tyler, are two members of what figures to be a strong senior class for the boys team this year.
Joining the twins is senior Nils Domke, who finished 31st at the state meet last season.
Another senior expected to make an impact is co-captain Justin Jones.
"He's just got a great desire," JDHS co-coach Guy Thibodeau said. "He's made real improvements in track. He's made improvements on his foot-speed and he's one of the most improved runners I have so far."
The Bears also boast solid talent with juniors Andrew Flansaas and Ray Huebschen.
One of the biggest advantages for the boys and girls' teams, however, is the town of Juneau itself.
With so many different places to explore and run through, success in meets appears to be a natural byproduct of Juneau's beautiful environment.
"It's a really nice area to run in," Wesley Dinnan said. "It's easy to stay motivated if you have a lot of different places to run. I also think it says a lot about the team that we're all willing to work hard to achieve a common goal."
Coming off a second-place overall finish in the 2004 state meet, the girls cross country team looks deep and talented.
Led by seniors Jordan Moser, Jordan Harvey and Lexi Garvey, the Crimson Bears' girls team has talented runners in every class. Senior Carly Craig, although injured, will serve as captain and provide motivation and running expertise.
"We're really deep," JDHS co-coach Merry Ellefson said. "We have a strong group of experienced runners coming back."
The girls' squad also returns emerging star Katie Krehlik. As a freshman last season, Krehlik finished 13th overall at the state meet. This year, she'll be part of a talented sophomore class that features Kirsten Jorgensen and Isabel Bush.
Unlike most sports, cross country allows the boys and girls teams to train together.
The co-educational environment lets both teams push and encourage each other while developing a special camaraderie.
"I think the reason they do work so hard and work so well is because they've developed such a strong support system and they appreciate each other and we make an effort to make sure they appreciate each other," Ellefson said. "We do appreciations at the end of the week, every week, where we stand around and the kids say I appreciated your work, or Tyler (Dinnan) for picking me up from work or the way somebody cheered me on."
While the coaches try to foster a positive and encouraging environment, one thing the Thibodeau and Ellefson do not have to worry about is the runners' work ethic.
Both coaches praised their athletes' ability to work hard and compete.
The team hopes that kind of preparation will lead to more championship trophies and plaques in Juneau.
"The danger is we've got so much talent that you don't want to overdue it and get injured," Thibodeau said. "They'll work as hard as you ask them to."
Sports editor Tim Nichols can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org