For the Juneau-Douglas High School boys and girls cross country teams, there was no talk of revenge or vindication as they prepared for Saturday's Alaska School Activities Association Cross Country Championships in Palmer.
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This race won't be called "Palmer II - This Time It's Personal." Still, the muddy, nasty mess of a course the team experienced on Sept. 8 isn't too far from their collective memories.
"It was really interesting," JDHS sophomore Annika Ord said. "It was one of the biggest races ever and to have three inches of mud on top of that, you're slipping and sliding down the hills. I'm excited about this weekend because hopefully conditions will be better. It should be a lot faster."
Perhaps no other Crimson Bear is more looking forward to Saturday than sophomore Leah Francis.
JDHS cross country
What: The Alaska School Activities Association State Cross Country Championships.
Where: Mike Janecek Trails at Palmer High School.
When: Boys 1-2-3A race at noon Saturday, Boys 4A race at 12:45 p.m., Girls 1-2-3A race at 1:30 p.m., Girls 4A race at 2:15 p.m.
What's at stake: The JDHS girls are competing for their first state cross country title since 1995. The JDHS boys are looking for their 5th consecutive top-three finish.
On Sept. 8, the defending state champion's left shoe came off just moments into the race. She ran almost the entire 5-kilometers with one bare foot, eventually finishing 13th.
The Crimson Bears finished second to West Anchorage.
"I was really mad," Francis recalled. "I was so mad. Probably as mad as I've ever been."
She said her anger lasted just 10 minutes, however.
Despite the fluky finish of a few weeks ago, Francis isn't out to exact any revenge on the course that did her wrong.
Instead the sophomore simply wants to perform her best in the state's biggest race - a sentiment shared by her teammates.
"I just want to have a really hard race where I don't leave anything not used," she said. "I just want to go all out and know I've done the best I can with no regrets."
While Francis' second chance in Palmer is an interesting subplot, the focus in cross country is always on the sport's team aspect.
In the team competition, the JDHS girls boast a great shot at winning their first state title since 1995.
In addition to Francis, seniors Kirsten Jorgensen and Katie Krehlik have been top-10 runners all season long. On Sept. 8 in Palmer, Krehlik and Jorgensen finished fourth and fifth to help the Bears.
The team's second pack of Isabel Bush, Leigh Miller and Ord have also been solid throughout the year. Sophomore Alice Ottoson-McKeen will also run with the varsity on Saturday.
Where one lost second could mean the difference between first and second, the pack of Bush, Miller and Ord are equally as important as anyone on the team.
"We all have our strengths," Ord said of the trio. "Isabel is good on downhills, I'm good at uphills and Leigh is good on flats. We try to push our expertise and stay with the other one. Like when Leigh is on the flats, I try to stay with her and going uphill she tries to stay with me. You balance each other out."
For the boys, Juneau-Douglas' tightly-knit team is looking for its fifth-consecutive finish in the top three.
"State is always the best because you're working for that," Juneau-Douglas senior Daniel Stoops said. "That's your whole season. You come to practice and work hard because you're going to state."
The Juneau-Douglas boys head to the state championships with momentum after winning their last two meets.
Senior Hunter Brown captured the last two races and will be going head-to-head with Alaska's elite Saturday - including defending champ Trevor Dunbar of Kodiak.
As a team, the Crimson Bears' great strength is in their pack mentality.
Last week the gap between Brown and the number five runner, senior Gus Browning, was just 32 seconds.
That kind of teamwork and dedication is crucial in cross country.
"We're all pretty close," Stoops said.
Another unique part of the boys team is the diversity of ages on the squad. Brown, Stoops, Browning and Nathan Ord are seniors while freshmen Sage Thibodeau and Zack Bursell have made an immediate impact. Sophomore Robin Woodby also broke 17:30 last week.
"Having two freshmen on the team is good for future years," Stoops said. "We'll be really strong."
Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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