Blink, and you may miss this year's Juneau-Douglas High School cross-country runners - in more ways than one.
The defending state champion Crimson Bear boys return the bulk of last year's winning squad, while the Juneau girls boast a solid core of veterans buoyed by a big influx of new talent.
And they'll all hit the Treadwell Mine Trails in Douglas this Saturday for the Crimson Bears' only home meet of the season.
Juneau's home season starts with the boys race at 1:30 p.m., and ends with the girls race at 2 p.m. - with both races beginning and finishing at the Sandy Beach parking lot.
After this weekend, the Crimson Bears will hit the road for all of their remaining meets, leading up to Region V meet at Sitka on Sept. 25 and the state meet at Skyview High School on Oct. 2.
The Juneau boys are trying to block any feelings of entitlement and complacency after winning their first-ever state crown last fall.
"We want to keep the same mindset as last year - don't assume, and always treat it like we're the underdog," said senior captain Tristan Knutson-Lombardo, a four-year varsity runner who is the defending Region V champion. He led the Juneau boys at state with a fifth-place individual finish last season.
"We're putting it behind us. We have to focus on staying healthy, and running the best races we can."
But, Knutson-Lombardo noted, "there's definitely a sense of confidence. ... We're fortunate to have a bunch of talented runners, strong runners."
Also back from last year's state squad are junior twins Tyler and Wesley Dinnan and sophomores Ray Huebschen and Nils Domke. Among those in the mix to fill the spots of departed seniors Tim Davin and Isaac Milligan are current seniors Greg Frank and Brian Smith, junior Justin Jones and a host of underclassmen.
"They're not coming in as the unknown this year," coach Guy Thibodeau said of his boys' team. "Last year, we showed up in the middle of the season and surprised (teams up north).
"Everyone is looking to us, and (we) fulfilled that the first meet of the season."
That would be last week's Bartlett Relays, where a coed team of five Juneau runners won the overall title. Across the board, the Crimson Bears showed improvement over their times the previous season.
And the Juneau girls, in particular, stood out with six runners posting sub-14 minute times on the two-mile, obstacle-filled course - twice as many as last season.
They're part of a 22-runner turnout for the girls' team this season - about 10 more than in recent years, and enough to allow Juneau to carry a full junior varsity team.
"It's a little crazy, but it's great to have all that energy," coach Merry Ellefson said. "It's a really cohesive team, and they learn a lot from each other."
Senior captain Megan Bush led the way at Bartlett with a 13:11 leg for the winning Juneau team. She said intrasquad competition keeps the team in peak condition.
"Each time, different girls are coming up in front," Bush said. "Every time its a different mix. We can all run together (and) push each other during practice, and that comes out in the meets."
Bush joined the team midway through last season, but had an immediate impact at the region and state meets and is ably filling the role of captain.
"She's a great leader, and she's got a strong set of juniors to help her along," Ellefson said.
Those juniors include Lexi Garvey, Jordan Harvey and Jordan Moser, who helped the Crimson Bears take third at state last season. Junior Carly Craig and freshmen Kirsten Jorgensen and Katie Krehlik are among those seeking to fill the spots of departed seniors Kendri Cesar and Greta Thibodeau, who was last year's Region V champion.
Expect to see a sea of red on the Treadwell Trails on Saturday, as all the eligible Juneau runners will take to the 5-kilometer/3.1-mile course. A full slate of teams are expected in Juneau for the meet, including Ketchikan, Sitka, Haines, Skagway, Kake, Petersburg, Wrangell, Metlakatla, Craig and Klawock.
"This is going to be the trial meet," Bush said. "Let's see where we stack up, where we fit in, how we work together."
While may be a little early to set team goals, Crimson Bear runners will certainly carry personal goals as they hit the course, very familiar after weeks - in some cases, years - of practice runs.
"I'm just going to run my own race, set my own pace and see what happens," Frank said.
The Crimson Bears will travel to Ketchikan on Sept. 4, and split up the following weekend with two groups of runners heading to Haines and Prince of Wales on Sept. 10, and a third group running at Dimond High School in Anchorage on Sept. 11.
The team will reunite for a meet at Petersburg on Sept. 18 to end the regular season, before heading to the region and state events.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at email@example.com.
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