JUNEAU - No one walks up off the street and becomes an instant force in competitive cross country. And that is the task for Thunder Mountain High School as the entire cross country team is, like the school itself, sparkling new.
Only one runner, sophomore Andrew Gianotti, has any high school cross country experience. So the goal this inaugural season, which begins Saturday at Sitka, isn't so much to go out and win a Region V and state championship as it is to lay the groundwork for future success.
"Competing is really not what's on the radar right now," coach Scott May said of his team, which is 12 kids deep at this point. "We're gelling as a team - getting an identity, if you will - and I think that they're here because they like to run. We're looking to build a sense of community, and I think the competition piece will come. We're just going to go to the meets this year and have fun with them.
"This is the foundation, and we build from here."
Junior Rhyan Holmes will captain the two-member girls' team. Holmes has no 5k experience, but she has previously competed in the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs for track and field.
"Hopefully over the next couple of years, the team will get bigger," she said.
Freshman Derec Steinman said he has been running since the sixth grade, so he does have some experience, just not in the 5k. Steinman said he is looking forward to helping write the TMHS record book during his four years.
"It's a brand-new team, so we get to set all of the records," he said "And we're aiming for having a good season, a good start to the program."
May said the team has been working on building its base, and getting to know each other.
"Everybody has potential. Every kid out here has a ton of potential, and my job is to bring that out," he said. "Cross country is something that you have to build on, and all of our kids are going to be charged with keeping active in the off-season. Because we just started - sometimes it takes years to build up - they're going to learn about running and how to compete in distance events.
"Hopefully, they'll keep that going through the winter because that's a huge challenge here, and then they'll come out and stay active in the spring and start the first day of summer with us."
May said he hopes his freshmen runners will be able to compete at a high level by the time they are juniors and seniors.
"Absolutely. I expect that," he said. "We will be as competitive as any team in the state. It really is going to take dedication and commitment, and if we get that from our kids, we'll be competitive in the future."
The high point of the season might come during the Region V championship, which will be held in Juneau on Sept. 26. It will be the first time the team will compete on its home course.
"It is very exciting to have a team representing Thunder Mountain at our first region meet here at home," May said. "It will be a great experience for the kids, and for the community to see us for the first time in competition. It will be great for the kids to have their families and friends out to see them here."
Until then, the goal is to continue building the foundation, brick by brick.
"And this is the very, very beginning of that process," May said. "Most of the kids that came out this year hadn't been running prior to coming out, so they're just starting. It is all about building, and it is all about the future.
"We start now, and the possibilities are endless."
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