The Thunder Mountain Falcons' cross-country program has yet to run its first meet of the year, but forward progress from last year's inaugural season is already evident.
The number of student-athletes participating this season has jumped significantly from last year, especially on the girls' side. There will be eight girls running for the Falcons this year - there were only two last year - and that gives Thunder Mountain enough for a full girls' team for the upcoming season. After featuring only 12 runners across both the boys and girls teams last season, the Falcons will be represented by 28 athletes after graduating one senior last year.
"It's really great to see the numbers this year," head coach Scott May said. "For the returning kids, the expectations are to exceed what they did in the courses we ran last year."
With a season-opening meet in Ketchikan on Saturday, May said he hopes to see the returning members of his squad perform well on a course they've already experienced.
"We start off right away with a course we ran last year in Ketchikan, so all those kids are looking to break the times from last year - significantly for some of them," he said. "We are also at Sandy Beach again this year, so our home course is the same and Sitka is the same. Those three courses will be benchmarks for how much we've improved.
"I'm expecting all those kids - all our returners - to improve significantly this year because most of them have been working year-round."
Senior captain Rhyan Holmes said the girls' team is ready for competition this season, especially now that there are enough numbers for the girls to have a team.
"I expect our team to do great this year. Our coaches have taught us new techniques to make us better at running, and I feel like everyone will do really well and break personal bests," she said. "We've learned a lot about our form from last year and we've also been able to figure out how to tell the difference between our pacing for certain distances.
"With that help I think we can do well in the three miles."
Junior boys' captain Wilson Suzuki said expectations are much higher after last year's pilot season, and he said the increase in numbers should be a good thing for the team.
"This year looks a lot different from last year. We may not be quite as close-knit, but we're definitely going to have a lot more variety from trip to trip," he said. "I think it's great that we have a big team this year. That's a really good thing."
With such a young team - Thunder Mountain has only two seniors - May said he hopes the kids that ran last year will help lead by example during the upcoming season.
"Because we're so new, the returning kids shared with the group one thing they learned from last year," he said. "They've learned a lot from last year and they're sharing it with the new kids."
May said he expects there to be tight competition, especially within the boys' team. Returning with Suzuki is Thunder Mountain's top runner from last year, sophomore Avery Stewart, as well as top sophomore challengers James Steeves and Hugh Watts along with junior Andrew Gianotti.
Expected leaders on the girls' side with Holmes will be sophomore standouts Ashlynn Kay and Katie Jones, as well as senior Amanda Gile. May said he expects the girls' school record to fall during the first meet in Ketchikan.
The lone home meet of the season for the Falcons will be the Juneau Invitational on Sept. 18 at Sandy Beach.
Juneau Empire ©2013. All Rights Reserved.