The performance of the Juneau-Douglas High School cross country team at last weekend's Sitka Invitational was, literally, near perfect.
The boys scored a perfect 15 points by claiming the top five places, and the girls had five of the top six finishers to wind up with 16 points. The Crimson Bears' success in Sitka - and bright outlook for the rest of the season - has been fueled by a large, strong class of freshman runners that haven't wasted any time in making their mark.
"It's an amazing group," coach Guy Thibodeau said. "We're really counting on this freshman class to be the basis of our future."
The freshmen - and the rest of the Crimson Bear runners - will have their first chance to run for a home crowd this Saturday, as they host the Juneau Invitational on the newly-upgraded Treadwell Mine Trails. It's Juneau's only home meet of the season, with the girls race starting at noon and the boys race starting at 12:45 p.m.
"There's always a home court advantage," freshman Nathan Woodring said. "You have to run your race no matter what, but..."
Freshman Jordan Harvey, who finished sixth in Sitka, said this weekend's meet will be a good test. While the Sitka course was fairly level, the Treadwell course features more hills.
"We're going to have to work hard," she said.
Harvey said it was fun to have the freshmen be a part of the Sitka success. Besides Harvey, Juneau freshmen Jaci Hayden, Janelle Smith and Jordan Moser finished second, fourth and seventh, respectively. Freshman Carly Craig took 11th place, and Gretchen Dierking finished 12th for the Juneau girls.
Freshman Wesley Dinnan said the upperclassmen have created a good, comfortable setting for the younger runners.
"I was a little intimidated (before the Sitka meet), but when we got to the starting line, the intimidation went away," he said. "I think it's because of the atmosphere. All the other runners are real supportive."
Dinnan finished third for the Juneau boys at Sitka; twin brother Tyler finished fifth, and fellow freshman Eric Gullefson took 22nd place. Both of the Dinnans said they liked making the jump from the more relaxed pace of middle-school running to the more serious high school team.
"When everyone is putting in the same amount of effort, it unites you as a team," Tyler Dinnan said.
Senior Heidi Denton said the freshmen contribute not only with their own times, but also by pushing the upperclassmen to work harder.
"When freshmen come in, their mentality is, 'beat the seniors,'" she said. "That's the attitude we need to keep the team going."
Coach Merry Ellefsen said this year's freshmen give the team a great outlook for the future.
"We're really fortunate that we've had so many kids who came out," she said. "They're really committed. ... This is the beginning. We've got a lot of raw talent, a lot of potential."
Ketchikan, Sitka, Petersburg, Wrangell, Haines and Skagway will be participating in Saturday's invite.
Haines High School will be sending four boys and a girl to compete in the meet. Coach Heather Lende said the team is led by returning runner Flint Allred, who competed in last year's state tournament.
Lende said she should have a full boys team for future tourneys this season, and is trying to gather enough runners for a full girls team as well.
Skagway coach Jeff Kasler said he expects the boys team to have an excellent shot at repeating as the Region V-Class 1A-2A-3A champion. While standout runner Russell Bush moved away, Skagway is led by sophomore Kyle Mulvihill, who finished second in the region last fall.
Kasler said the girls team is led by freshman Candi Ketterman and should also challenge for the region crown this season.
Andrew Krueger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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