It was a perfect day in Ketchikan on Saturday and the Juneau-Douglas High School cross country team put up a perfect effort.
Under rare sunny Ketchikan skies, Maria Eley raced to a first-place finish, pacing the Crimson Bear women who swept the top seven spots en route to victory in their first meet of the season.
Eley, a junior, covered the 5-kilometer course in 20 minutes, 29 seconds. Juneau's top runner last season, Eley spent the summer doing volunteer work in Mozambique while her teammates were busy logging miles in town all summer in preparation for the new season.
``Maria was a pleasant surprise,'' Coach Nancy Thomas said. ``I was surprised to see her that strong so soon.''
Sophomore Breea DeSloover followed Eley into the finish chute with Christy Race and Jeannette Gardiner hot on her heels. And when senior Abby Blair crossed the line to complete the Bear sweep, placing fifth in her first high school cross country competition, just 33 seconds separated Juneau's five scoring runners.
``When the girls came in after the first mile all bunched up like grapes I was really happy,'' Thomas said. ``But when they finished that way too I was ecstatic. It gave me goosebumps.''
Not content with the perfect score and the top five sweep, the Bears sent Marta Race and Eden Orelove over the finish line sixth and seventh, displacing the top two Ketchikan runners and putting an exclamation point on a fine first outing.
The Crimson Bear men followed up the women's perfect performance with a near perfect outing of their own. Only Ketchikan's Steve Beedle, who crossed the line fifth overall, kept Juneau from another top five sweep. Shawn Miller took the tape for the Bears, completing the course in 17:20, just four seconds ahead of teammate Jeffrey Early.
Like the women, the men also ran in a tight pack, with a mere 45 seconds separating Miller from Juneau's fifth scoring runner - sixth-place finisher Cory Denton. Joe Kegler (17:41) and Dewey Peacock (17:50) came in third and fourth, while Dan Fagnant (eighth place, 18:08) and Todd Denton (ninth place, 18:50) rounded out the varsity finish.
The tight pack left Coach Thomas pleased for the second time on Saturday.
``Last year Shawn was way out front,'' she said. ``We're closing the gap now and running more together.''
And the Bears know the importance of finishing not only high but also in a group. At last year's state meet, which was won by both Colony teams, just 33 seconds separated the Knights' top five men, while 61 seconds were all that ticked off the clock between the top five women finishers. Still, this year's JDHS team is taking nothing for granted.
``This is a good thing to build on,'' Thomas said. ``We won't look past Sitka next weekend. We want to keep up the hard work and keep everybody healthy.''
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