JDHS running with confidence

Crimson Bears prepare for the last stop before state - the Southeast Conference championships in Sitka

Posted: Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Saturday may be the Southeast Conference cross country championships in Sitka, but the race should serve more as a warm-up than a cutthroat competition for the Juneau-Douglas High School boys and girls teams.

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Barring anything catastrophic, the JDHS boys and girls should advance to the state championships with regional crowns in tow.

That doesn't mean Saturday's race is insignificant, however.

"We're getting ready to get the mindset we'll have at state," Juneau-Douglas runner Leigh Miller said. "A lot of the girls want to PR (set personal records) this weekend because it's a pretty flat course. We also like to try and get a perfect score."

The girls scored a perfect 15 en route to a regional championship last year. In cross country, the score is the sum of the places for a team's top five finishers.

In addition to striving for perfection, a fast start will also be on the agenda for the JDHS girls.

Pushing themselves will be key, especially when they head to the state championships on Sept.. 29 in Palmer.

"A lot of the kids want to work on going out fast again like going at state," JDHS coach Merry Ellefson said. "It provides us a good opportunity because it starts on pavement for 300 yards before it hits the trail."

A quick start should also translate into solid times.

Last week at Ketchikan, the gap between the top runner - Leah Francis - and the number five runner was 1:50.

Narrowing that gap will increase Juneau's chances for a stellar end to the season.

To do that, the Crimson Bears work in pairs to push each other and set paces for one another.

For the girls, Francis is the front-runner while seniors Katie Krehlik and Kirsten Jorgensen duel for second and third position.

Just seconds behind them, Miller, Annika Ord and Isabel Bush normally push each other for faster times.

While racing in packs is important, runners must also be mindful of their teammates in the pack and not the ones ahead or behind them.

"When you're racing, it helps to have people around you, but you can't be thinking about how other people are going to race," Miller said. "Katie and Kirsten have their own races and we have our own. It's nice when we can start with their pace and see them and have them as motivation."

The JDHS boys ran very consistent races throughout the season.

The gap between top runner Hunter Brown and the fifth runner was less than a minute.

"We're just running great races, trying to get PRs and maybe make the gap smaller," JDHS freshman Sage Thibodeau said. "It would make us better as a team and get our score down even more."

Juneau freshmen Thibodeau and Zack Bursell have been running as a pack in the later stages of the season. The duo's constant improvement has led to top finishes for the boys team.

The former middle-school rivals fished third and fourth last week in Ketchikan.

"I was kind of worried because me and Zack are a little competitive, and I didn't know if that would transition into being a team," said Thibodeau, the nephew of JDHS co-coach Guy Thibodeau. "We've been staying with each other, pushing each other to go faster."

What makes cross country such a unique sport is its team aspect.

While each individual runner strives for a top time, success is ultimately determined by how well each runner on the roster competes.

For JDHS to be successful, confidence not only in their own abilities, but in the abilities of their teammates, is crucial.

Saturday will be a perfect opportunity to capitalize on that confidence.

"This is just a really good chance for us to go race amongst ourselves and get this one more boost of confidence in themselves and in their teammates," Ellefson said. "We want them to look at how hard they worked - not just at themselves but who they're running with on the team and just have some respect and confidence from that."

• Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or sports@juneauempire.com.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

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