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With a large group of freshmen playing key roles on the Juneau-Douglas High School varsity cross-country running team, the Crimson Bears were looking for some seasoning this weekend as they took part in Saturday's Palmer Invitational.
More than 1,100 runners took part in the day's 11 races, and the young Crimson Bears held their own as they competed in the two Class 4A 100-runner varsity races.
The Juneau girls took fourth place in the team standings, while the Crimson Bear boys were fifth in a meet that saw 18 of the state's 20 Class 4A schools send teams. The meet is considered a preview of the state championships, since it's the largest meet of the regular season and the state meet will take place on Sept. 28 on the same Michael Janecek Trails at Palmer High School. Ketchikan and Sitka were the only Class 4A schools not sending teams to Palmer.
"The big thing was getting our inexperienced runners some experience," Juneau co-coach Merry Ellefson said. "Our course at home is really hilly like this course, so it was a good preview for us. I was really pleased."
While most of Juneau's girls are freshmen, it was a senior who led the Crimson Bears around the course. Molly Krehlik finished 15th overall, covering the 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) course in 20 minutes, 16.39 seconds for a "fantastic race," Ellefson said.
Freshman Jordan Harvey led a tight pack of Crimson Bears in the 25th to 30th places, as Harvey (20:33.84) took 25th place, freshman Jaci Hayden (20:34.30) was 26th, senior Heidi Denton (20:41.84) took 28th and freshman Janelle Smith (20:49.19) finished 30th. Freshman Jordan Moser took 37th place in 21:12.58 and senior Phoebe Rohrbacher was 53rd in 21:32.60.
"Jordan Harvey had her best race of the year," Ellefson said about the runner who was sixth on the team at last weekend's Juneau Invitational. "Jaci's been really sick, and I was going to ask her if she wanted to sit out today and she still finished 26th. Heidi's also had the same cold/flu-like symptoms and she was 11th at state last year.
"It was good to see some good pack running like this," Ellefson added. "The first time they came around (on the three-lap course) they were all about 30th to 35th, so they were able to move up. For a lot of those young girls, this is the first time they've ever run in a pack like this."
West Anchorage's Kris Smith won the girls Class 4A varsity race in 18:46.04, with Soldotna's Jessica Weimer second in 19:03.50 and Chugiak's Morgan Ekemo third in 19:03.96. The East Anchorage girls claimed the team title with 71 points, followed by West Valley of Fairbanks with 112, Soldotna with 113, Juneau with 124 and West Anchorage fifth with 137.
In the boys Class 4A varsity race, sophomore Tristan Knutson-Lombardo led the Crimson Bears with a 12th-place finish in 17:26.60. Teammate Gabe Hayden, Jaci's older brother, finished 16th in 17:33.68, with both Knutson-Lombardo and Hayden running what Ellefson said were "smart, really good races."
The next two runners for Juneau were freshman twins Wesley and Tyler Dinnan. Wesley Dinnan, who usually trails his brother, took 40th place in 18:02.56, while Tyler, who is usually closer to Hayden, was 41st in 18:03.24. Rounding things out for Juneau were senior Chris Frank (18:16.38) in 53rd place, senior Philip Dierking (18:28.92) in 64th and junior Tim Davin (18:31.46) in 67th.
"I felt great about the races," Ellefson said. "The Dinnans had a tough race, when they both got boxed in behind of pack of about 20 runners. But that's the reason we come here, to give them experience."
Two-thirds of Palmer's senior triplet combo finished 1-2 in the overall standings, as Aaron Dickson won in 16:19.63 and his brother Drew taking second in 16:42.46. Dimond's Jeff Quickel was third in 16:45.41, helping the Lynx claim the team title with 100 points. Kodiak took second place with 133 points, followed by Chugiak with 147, Palmer with 160 and Juneau with 162 for fifth place.
Juneau runs at the Petersburg Invitational this Saturday, then heads to Ketchikan for the Region V meet on Sept. 21. The season ends with state meet on Sept. 28 in Palmer.