The 2007 cross country season started much the same way last year ended - with Juneau-Douglas High School's Leah Francis winning the race.
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The defending state champion won the 5-kilometer Juneau Invitational in 19 minutes, 0.21 seconds on Saturday at Savikko Park in Douglas. The sophomore bested second-place teammate Kirsten Jorgensen by nearly 45 seconds.
As a team, the JDHS girls won the meet with 17 points. The Crimson Bears boys squad also won the team competition with 32 points.
"I think she got out here like everyone else and did what she needed to do," JDHS co-coach Merry Ellefson said of Francis. "The kids will all process that differently depending on who they are. They're all working hard and still working hard during the week."
The Crimson Bears girls picked up where they left off last year and then some.
Jorgensen and third-place Katie Krehlik stayed close throughout the entire race, pushing each other throughout the course.
Sophomore Annika Ord finished sixth while senior Isabel Bush, who's battled injuries the last two years, placed a satisfying seventh place in 20:25.99. Leigh Miller finished ninth overall in 20:51.53.
"I felt really good," Bush said. "I haven't been injured this year. I was hoping to go out and enjoy the race. I really did. I felt smooth."
Juneau's younger racers also enjoyed solid performances.
Alice Ottoson-McKeen, Alison deLaBruere, Sara Tarver, Elisha Thibodeau, Sara Sayre and Mary Gianotti all finished in the top 25.
"To see them out here as a team, it's really cool for the new runners and the returning runners," Ellefson said. "You could see them pushing each other."
While it's always nice to win a race, the most important part about Saturday's event proved the experience itself.
JDHS Top Fives
(Overall place, Name, Time)
2. Hunter Brown 17:05.96
4. Daniel Stoops 17:59.44
5. Zack Bursell 18:09.88
7. Sage Thibodeau 18:18.46*
10. Gus Browning 18:23.13
1. Leah Francis 19:00.21
2. Kirsten Jorgensen 19:44.49
3. Katie Krehlik 19:48.95
6. Annika Ord 20:14.30
7. Isabel Bush 20:25.99
(* did not factor in final scoring)
The results will give coaches an idea of how to adjust their training in future practices while new runners experience what it's like to compete.
"It was good," said freshman Nicole Ashenfelter after finishing her first-ever cross country race. "I was really nervous at first, but as I got on the course it seemed to get easier."
In the boys race, the Juneau-Douglas team used its depth to win the overall meet.
However, Haines senior Chandler Kemp captured the race in 16:48.42.
Kemp held off a hard-charging Hunter Brown from JDHS for first place.
"Hunter helped push me, and the fans were cheering for him," Kemp said. "That motivated me, for sure."
Kemp should be among the favorites for the small-school state championship this season.
"I want to come out and win today and try to PR (get a personal record) at all the courses," he said. "I want to break 16 (minutes) at state."
While Kemp took the individual title, the Crimson Bears' mix of youth and experience led to a team title.
Junior Daniel Stoops placed fourth overall, followed by freshman Zack Bursell in fifth.
"The kids are definitely a lot bigger," Bursell said of the difference between middle school and high school running. "I think it's just more hands-on coaches with the kids. I really get to know them and my strengths and weaknesses and work on my weaknesses."
Another freshman, Sage Thibodeau, took seventh overall despite being listed on the junior varsity prior to the race.
Senior Gus Browning took 10th place and Robin Woodby placed 13th to round out the Crimson Bears scoring.
If Saturday's race is any indication, Southeast Alaska may have some very fast races this year.
In addition to Kemp, Ketchikan's Lucas Updike stepped up to finish third overall.
"That's what we need down here, having that other person pull you along and get that challenge from the other schools," JDHS co-coach Guy Thibodeau said. "Ketchikan had a really strong runner. He really ran well and had a good kick at the end. That's another good runner for us to point to."
Up next for JDHS is the Wrangell Invitational on Saturday.
Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or email@example.com.