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Coming off a sweep of the Juneau Invitational and a solid performance at the Bartlett Relays two weeks ago, the Juneau-Douglas High School cross country teams will get their last chance to run against some of Alaska's top teams in back-to-back meets at Homer today and Seward on Saturday.
Last week at the Juneau Invitational, the Crimson Bear girls benefited from having all five of their runners finish in the top 10 to beat Southeast rival Ketchikan 30-42. The boys edged a quality team from Couer d'Alene, Idaho, 30-34 and easily outdistanced Ketchikan by 65 points.
The Crimson Bears know they stack up well against Southeast competition, and now they will see how they compare to some of the state's stronger programs. Most of the Kenai Peninsula schools will be represented as well as Grace Christian School and Anchorage Christian Schools.
The highly talented Juneau girls squad could be considered the favorite in both meets, with defending state champion East Anchorage and West Anchorage not making an appearance. Hilary Young, Molly Krehlik and Heidi Denton give Juneau three solid runners at their 1-2-3 spots, while Greta Thibodeau, Brittany Rohm and Phoebe Rohrbacher have been very productive as the No. 4, 5 and 6 runners.
But head coach Guy Thibodeau is hesitant about calling his team the favorite.
"I don't know if they can be called the favorites," coach Thibodeau said. "On paper, we look pretty competitive with Chugiak. They have a real good group of runners and ran well at Skyview last week, but Chugiak won't be there. Soldotna has a pretty good girls team and the other Peninsula teams look good too."
Another snag this weekend is that Young has been sick this week, which could affect her performance.
"Hilary is sick. She was sick yesterday," Thibodeau said. "She's our top runner and it will be interesting to see how she does."
The boys team had a spark last week when freshman Bryce Iverson stepped up with a fifth-place finish, giving the boys team new hope for what was initially called a rebuilding year. Now the boys will get to run back-to-back races against the defending state champs from Soldotna, who look to be as strong as they did last year.
"We'll have to adjust to running back-to-back races," varsity runner Axel Thibodeau said during a workout on Thursday. "But it will be fun to have a chance to beat Soldotna twice two days."
"That's going to be quite a challenge with Soldotna," Guy Thibodeau said. "They looked strong at Skyview. They had three guys under 16:40 and fourth guy who ran a 17:47. Homer's got a good top two runners too."
The meets will most likely be the last time Stringer will have somebody to run with until the state meet on Sept. 29 in Palmer. Last week, Stringer was in a class by himself, winning the boys race by 54 seconds and running without competition for the majority of the race.
"I'm excited and I'm ready," Stringer said. "There's a huge difference in having someone running right beside you and have to kick at the end. I'm just going to run my own race. It will be a test to see who's mentally stronger."
The other varsity boys runners making the trip are Blake Rider, Brian Nowlin and Phillip Dierking. Today's race at Homer begins at 4:45 p.m. and Saturday's race starts at 12:20 p.m.
Juneau JV heads to Wrangell
While the varsity heads north to run, the Crimson Bears junior varsity teams will travel south to Wrangell on Saturday and compete against the varsity squads from Southeast schools including Ketchikan, Skagway and Haines.
"It will be really good to see these kids work as a team," said assistant coach Merry Ellefson, who will take the JV team to Wrangell. "We got some really great runners like Emily (Krehlik) and Elise (Wahto) who have been running strong. Chris (Frank) and Tristan (Knutson-Lombardo) have been running well for the boys. Last week, a lot of personal goals were achieved and we like to see where everybody is at relative to the goals they made."
These Crimson Bears will make the trip: Emily Krehlik, Wahto, Erin Flynn, Jo Marshall, Linda Bruce, Abby Lawson, Jessica Mikesell, Olena Lundquist, Frank, Knutson-Lombardo, Gabe Hayden, Tim Davin, Brian Smith and William Horton.
Jeff Kasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.