The season opener and senior night will be rolled into one Saturday at Sandy Beach.
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The Juneau-Douglas High School cross country team will host its only home meet at noon Saturday at Savikko Park in Douglas.
Not many of the Crimson Bears, however, are upset with the fluky schedule.
"I like to travel better than staying at home," JDHS sophomore and defending state champion Leah Francis said. "I think it's better to get it over with and have fun."
Francis said her goal is to achieve personal records at each course she runs at this year.
If she accomplishes that, it may lead to a record-setting season for the already accomplished sophomore.
JDHS Crimson Bears
What: Juneau Invitational meet.
When: noon Saturday.
Where: Savikko Park in Douglas.
What's at stake: This is the first cross country meet of the season.
For video clips and interviews with the runners, as well as a preview for the entire weekend in sports, check out www.juneauempire.com.
Francis also currently owns the course record at Savikko Park. Her time of 18 minutes and 32 seconds, set while winning the Southeast Conference championship last September, broke the record previously set by teammate Katie Krehlik.
"I feel a lot of pressure, I guess, but not necessarily from other people," Francis said. "I just want to do the best I can do."
For Juneau-Douglas, running on its home course for its first competitive event of the year should be a positive experience.
The Crimson Bears already are familiar with the course's twists, turns and hills.
"It's nice because we can practice on our on course and go right into it," Krehlik said. "I like our course. I wish we had more meets here."
For JDHS senior Gus Browning, what makes home meets more enjoyable isn't the course; it's the people.
The entire Southeast Conference will be competing Saturday in Douglas. In addition to a race, Saturday is an opportunity for friends and acquaintances from throughout the panhandle to catch up with each other.
"It's one of the reasons I do cross country," he said. "I know a lot of people from Haines and we see each other on the ferry trips and play board games and things. It's fun."
While both the boys and girls teams feature experienced runners, Saturday's meet will be important for the Bears' less experienced athletes. With more than 40 runners on its roster, this will be a good chance for the younger runners to see what's its like to run in a competitive high school atmosphere.
Only seven varsity runners for the boys and girls will count toward the final score. But any runner who completes at least 10 practices, as required by the Alaska School Activities Association, will compete.
"We also have kids that train together, so when we ask the kids to set achievable goals, they look to who they train with and we can help them," JDHS co-coach Merry Ellefson said. "Also, it's your first 5K. You can ask anyone because you'll always have some trepidation for different reasons. But because they did a 2-mile time trails and did work on that course, we can try to figure out a reasonable goal."
Most importantly, however, is that more runners mean more fun for the athletes.
"It's really nice because we have so many kids here," Krehlik said. "Everyone wants to join."
Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or email@example.com.
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