With what promises to be a massive field at the Palmer Invitational awaiting them, the Juneau-Douglas High School boys and girls cross country teams worked on some different strategies Saturday in Wrangell.
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The tinkering didn't affect the final outcome as the Crimson Bears boys and girls each won the invitational meet. Juneau-Douglas sophomore Leah Francis won the girls race in 18 minutes, 14 seconds, while the Bears' Hunter Brown finished second overall. Haines' Chandler Kemp won Saturday for his second-consecutive victory.
The JDHS girls won the race with 26 points, followed by Haines with 65 and Skagway with 85. For the boys, JDHS had 33 points, Ketchikan took second with 82 and Haines finished third with 89.
"We were just doing some strategy for different things the kids might run into during the season," JDHS co-coach Guy Thibodeau said. "We ran as a pack in the early parts of the race. The faster kids went a little slower then tried some surges."
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Both JDHS teams employed a pack strategy, according to coaches.
The Bears' sixth or seventh runner led the pack with the team's faster runners staying behind. The idea was to get the faster runners used to running in a group and helping each other while forcing the slower runners to push harder to keep up the pace.
The result was plenty of personal records and a new experience.
"The top runners are not working as hard, but at ¾ of a mile we asked them to push it and surge to a place of discomfort and then find their race pace," JDHS co-coach Merry Ellefson said.
Running in a pack and fighting through a crowd will be crucial in next weekend's Palmer Invitational.
Next weekend is normally the biggest regular-season race of the year with the Palmer Invitational and Dimond Lynx/Adidas Invitational happening at the same time.
Since the Lynx/Adidas race is canceled this year, however, it's looking like Palmer will benefit with an increased field.
"I heard something like 1,200 runners will be there, so that is like 300 per race," Thibodeau said.
The pace also benefited the team with a number of runners posting solid times.
For the girls, Kristen Jorgensen took second overall and finished just 25 seconds behind Francis.
Katie Krehlik took fifth overall while Annika Ord and Leigh Miller rounded out the team's top five.
For the boys, the freshman class made their presence felt with solid performances.
Zack Bursell was the Crimson Bears' second-fastest runner on the day while freshman Sage Thibodeau edged teammate Daniel Stoops for the third-fastest spot. Bursell finished fifth overall.
Sophomore Nolin Ainsworth and freshman Andre Button also achieved personal bests.
The team will bring its top boys and girls to Palmer next Saturday, while the remainder of the squad will head to Skagway.