The cross country season is winding down, signaling the culmination of a career for four Crimson Bears co-captains and several other Juneau-Douglas senior runners. Luckily for them, they'll have one last shot to run in front of the home faithful Saturday at Sandy Beach, where Juneau is hosting this year's Region V Cross Country Championships.
Co-captain Dawson Walker said it's been an incredible year for the boys' team.
"Some kids started off a little injured," he said, "but now we're at full strength; like a tiger with a broken leg that's now healed."
Girls' co-captain Leah Francis, one of the most decorated runners in state history who is vying for her fourth straight region and state titles, also compared the group to a bunch of tigers.
"I have been reflecting ... No, I haven't been reflecting at all," she said of the impending end of her prep career, which will begin anew at college next year. "There are two meets left, and it's going to be sad. We're a tight group of tigers here, so we're going to miss each other."
"It's really sad that it's coming to an end," co-captain Annika Ord agreed before bursting into laughter due to Francis' background antics.
"It's a tight group of friends, not tigers. We're Bears," she said emphatically. "After four years, the team is more like a family. We're a close group of people, so leaving is going to be really hard. But, it's been a really good year."
Boys' co-captain Robin Woodby said it's the closeness of the team that makes it one of the top contenders in Alaska this year.
"I've had a great four years on the team, and it's been a lot of fun; this year especially," he said. "We've got four strong runners, and a great pack. We've got a lot of teamwork on the boys' side, and we help push each other throughout every race. There's a lot of competitiveness within the team, and that really helps it improve as a whole, and as individuals as well."
All agreed that running at home with friends and family there to cheer them on one last time was going to be a gratifyingexperience.
"It's great to have a lot of support," Walker said. "Your power level just grows and grows the more family members you have here to watch. This is a great course to watch, too, because it's a loop. Your parents can definitely see you going through each loop, going through the steps and going through the pain that you feel during a race."
While it may be a great course to watch, Francis said it's not the best to run.
"I don't know if this course has ever really been my favorite," she said. "It's really tough - it's got some big hills. It's going to be sad that I'm never going to run here in high school again. This part of my life is drawing to a close. I know that my parents like to see my races, and they don't always get to see because we're off in some obscure Southeast place. They'll be happy to see me run."
Francis said her fondest memory of the local course came during her freshman year.
"I've run here at least four times (competitively), and I've done a bunch of time trials and workouts here," she said. "I got lost once in time trials when I was a freshman. Katie Krehlik told me which way to go, and I ran down thewrong trails."
Ord, who closed within 1:03 of Francis for the first time at last weekend's Ketchikan Cross Country Invite, which saw the JDHS duo finish 1-2, respectively, said this race will be it for those not competing at state, so they want to go out in style. Ord will likely go on to play soccer in college, so her competitive cross country career is drawing to a close.
"I'm definitely going to keep running throughout my life; I just don't know if it will be competitively," she said. "It's sad, really sad. I'm going to miss everybody. Racing isn't my favorite, but it's really, really rewarding. Losing that is going to be strange after doing it for four years."
Walker said he's also had a chance to think about what his running career has meant to him.
"I've reflected a lot. Cross country is a great sport, and the most fun I've had in high school was on this team doing the things we do," he said. "It's kind of like an ant growing up. You start out not really knowing the rest of your ant team, but when you grow up, you're the head of the hill."
Whether they be ants, tigers or Bears, the head of the hill is exactly where Juneau-Douglas plans to be Saturday.