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Posted: Friday, August 29, 1997

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Friday, August 29, 1997  Best foot forward: Four reasons why the Crimson Bears are optimistic about the upcoming cross country season: left to right, Jeffrey Early, Dan Fagnant, Cory Denton and Chris Miller on a training run earlier this week. JDHS opens its season on Saturday with a varsity meet in Ketchikan and a junior varsity meet in Haines.MARK KELSEY / JUNEAU EMPIREOff and running

Blend of youth and experience has harrier hopes high at JDHS

Last modified at 2:38 p.m. on Friday, August 29, 1997

By MARK KELSEY

THE JUNEAU EMPIRE

If state titles were made of team unity, the Juneau-Douglas High School cross country squad would already own the championship trophy.

The prep running season has not even started yet and already hopes are high in the Crimson Bear camp. Both the men and women have a solid nucleus of veteran runners, and with another huge turnout of potential contributors and bright new prospects, depth is definitely a team strength. But perhaps the most impressive thing that this group has going for it is its very strong bond and sense of shared purpose among team members.

``It's important that everyone here, including the freshmen, feels accepted, like this is a place where we can all have fun,'' said sophomore Breea DeSloover, the team's third runner last year and 27th-place finisher at the state meet. ``We all work together, challenge each other and support each other as a team.''

It's a common theme for the Bears, who look to return to their championship form of two years ago, when the women surprised everyone but themselves at the state meet in Palmer. This season's edition of the Bears sports just three runners - Jeanette Gardiner and Marta and Christy Race - remaining from that 1996 squad. But Juneau has added and developed some serious talent since then.

Last season, paced by Maria Eley's third-place overall finish, the women finished second at the state meet. Lots of hard work since then has Eley optimistic about an even stronger team finish this time out. She says that versatility will be the key to success this season.

``Everybody is good at something,'' the junior said. ``We have a really good team that has improved a lot over the summer.''

And a quick glance at the Empire Cup standings proves her point. The rankings of age-group runners tallied over a summer of regular community-wide competition reads like a Who's Who of JDHS cross country - a testament to the miles logged by the team in preparation for the new season. One name in particular should become very familiar to fans and opponents alike before the season is over - that of Eden Orelove. The freshman has already solidified her position on the varsity with her impressive clocking at the team's preseason time trial.

``She's a very good runner,'' said teammate DeSloover of the freshman sensation. ``And she's nice too. We like her.''

In addition to the emergence of Orelove, the first time trial of the season gave coaches Guy Thibodeau and Nancy Thomas much more to be optimistic about. Last year, Juneau's second runner posted a time of 13 minutes, 1 second at the season's first trial. This time around, the first six women completed the 2-mile course in less than 12:50. And the coaches expect competition for the seven varsity positions to be season-long.

``The girls are deep,'' Thomas said. ``Their depth goes beyond the `dainty dozen.'''

Rounding out the current top seven spots for the JDHS women is newcomer Abby Blair, a senior.

``We're happy to have her,'' DeSloover said. ``She's really good.''

So deep is the entire squad that Coach Thomas expects her top seven to change over the course of the season. Nipping at the heels of the current front-runners are Hannah Slotnick, Breanne Rohm, Michael Kohan, Terrah Hock and Nobu Koch.

On the men's squad, the time trials also turned up some happy surprises, which is good news for a team that lost its top two runners from last season. Joe Kegler, who finished 44th at the '96 state meet, has already posted a two-mile time better than last year's No. 2 runner Joe Koch, who graduated. Kegler, who finished second behind Shawn Miller in the time trials, is a junior in his second year with the team. He figures his experience last year will help him contribute to a strong team showing in the new campaign.

``I know what to expect now. I know the courses better,'' he said. ``I feel like a much stronger runner.''

With Miller and Kegler leading the way, Juneau looks to improve on its fifth-place finish at last year's state meet. And with five experienced seniors and little difference between the scoring runners, the Bears feel that they are a much improved squad.

``We're all friends and we all ran together in the offseason,'' said Dewey Peacock, a senior. ``So we should all be right up with each other (in races).''

Coach Thomas agrees.

``The top five boys are real close together,'' she said. ``We always run as a team and think in terms of team. So there are many contenders for the top seven spots.''

Among them are Jeffrey Early, who Peacock calls ``a very strong and dedicated runner,'' and Luke Dihle. Also in season-long contention for a varsity spot will be the Denton brothers, Cory and Todd, Dan Fagnant, Vince Rinehart, and freshmen prospects Wesley Brooks and Kevin Almlie.

Helping to inspire the team will be the memory of standout runner Ben Blackgoat, who died last fall while running on the Perseverance Trail.

``I've never seen anyone who makes running look so fun,'' said Peacock. ``Ben will be on my mind. I think we'll all be running with him on our minds.''

Juneau kicks off its season on Saturday with a varsity meet at Ketchikan and a junior varsity meet at Haines. As usual, all regular season meets will be away. The first chance to see the Bears on home turf will be at the Region V meet on Sept. 27.

Copyright © 1996, 1997 Southeastern Newspaper Corp.

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