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The Juneau-Douglas High School boys and girls cross country team started fast and finished strong en route to a pair of Southeast Conference championships Saturday in Sitka.
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The Crimson Bears girls posted a perfect 15 score to top Ketchikan and Sitka for the Class 4A title. The JDHS boys amassed 22 points to win their respective championship.
In the final tune-up before next Saturday's state championship meet in Palmer, coaches Guy Thibodeau and Merry Ellefson wanted their teams to start quick. A fast start will be crucial next week as JDHS will go up against about 80 competitors.
"I think the top goal was to start fast," JDHS senior Leigh Miller said. "I felt glad to start so fast even though I couldn't keep a consistent pace."
The quick course and fast start led to a number of personal best times for JDHS.
In the girls' race, five of Juneau's seven runners broke the 20 minute barrier as Leah Francis captured her second-straight conference title in 18 minutes, 16.71 seconds.
Francis won by nearly 50 seconds despite running on an injured hip.
Kirsten Jorgensen placed second, followed by Katie Krehlik, Leigh Miller and Annika Ord. Isabel Bush finished sixth in 20:01.89.
SOUTHEAST CONFERENCE TEAM RESULTS
"My goal was to break 20 minutes, so I had 20:01," Bush said. "I'm still happy with that because it's a personal best. I felt I ran as fast as I could."
It was the second-consecutive perfect score for the JDHS girls. The girls also narrowed the gap between first place and fifth from 1:50 last week to 1:42 on Saturday.
Miller, Bush and Ord ran as a pack during the race and made an effort to keep as close as they could to the tandem of Krehlik and Jorgensen.
"I wanted to think about looking at the runners ahead of me and have them work me harder," Miller said. "I wanted to be in eyesight of them."
Juneau's Alice Ottoson-McKeen took 11th place overall in 21:11.48.
For JDHS, the individual goals the girls set for themselves played perfectly into the team goals.
"For the girls like Annika, Isabel and Leigh, it's about moving up and having them set individual goals," Ellefson said. "And in those goals, you're bring your team forward, too. In doing that, they're closing that gap. I'm proud of the fact that they care about the team, and they're using their attitude and will."
In the boys race, competitors in Palmer can expect to see a tight pack of Crimson Bears based on Saturday's results.
JDHS senior Hunter Brown won his second-straight race and first conference title in 16:44.
"I feel pretty strong, but it'll be a whole different game at state," Brown said. "I'm looking forward to it."
Brown's individual title capped a solid, unified team performance in Sitka.
Juneau-Douglas' seven boys placed in the top nine overall. Also, the top five Crimson Bears had a gap of just 32 seconds.
"We wanted to stay together and be as close as we could be," Brown said.
Freshman Sage Thibodeau surged to second place in 17:07. Even though JDHS started quickly intentionally, Thibodeau still had enough in the tank to overtake Ketchikan's Lucas Updike for second.
It was Thibodeau's best finish this season.
"I was kind of hurting, but I told myself to keep going," the freshman said.
Fellow freshman Zack Bursell took fifth, followed by Daniel Stoops, Gus Browning, Robin Woodby and Nathan Ord in sixth through ninth place, respectively.
"Together, with a team like this, you get to know each other so well," Brown said. "That's the great thing about cross country."
Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.