Juneau-Douglas senior cross country runner Tyler Dinnan hasn't lost a race this season.
If the Crimson Bears' standout can win the year's final cross country race on Saturday, he will become the first JDHS runner to earn an individual state championship.
The Juneau-Douglas boys team will compete in the Alaska State Activities Association State Championships on Saturday at Skyview High School in Soldotna.
"I was sort of aware of that," Dinnan said. "So that would be kind of a bonus to be the first one, but the higher I place, the higher the team places.
"It would be a real icing on the cake. I've had lots of real good experiences on this team for the last four years. It would be cool to go out on top."
In his first year as the Bears' number one runner, Dinnan has more than risen to the challenge.
Prior to his senior year, Dinnan used teammate and team leader Tristan Knutson-Lombardo as a pace-setter and front runner.
The tandem helped catapult JDHS to state championships in 2003 and 2004, the first two cross country titles in school history.
When Knutson-Lombardo graduated at the end of last year, however, Dinnan was forced to forge his own path.
Dinnan admitted it was difficult to find his own running style, but his journey of athletic self-discovery helped him evolve into one of Alaska's best cross country runners.
"I think every serious runner has to figure out how they like to race and what works for them," Dinnan said. "As much as we miss Tristian, it's been a good experience for me."
Dinnan isn't the only runner on the two-time defending state champs. Dinnan's twin brother, Wesley, has been breathing down Tyler's neck since the beginning of the season.
The duo has finished 1-2 through the majority of the season. The constant competition on the courses and in practice have made the brothers two of the state's elite.
"I'm pretty proud of that," Wesley said of finishing 1-2 with Tyler throughout the season. "He's run really well this year. I'm just trying to stay close."
Wesley has been closing in on his brother this year.
During last weekend's regional meet in Ketchikan, Wesley hung tight with his brother until reaching a series of stairs during the race. Wesley still claimed second place.
"They do push each other and are still trying to beat each other," JDHS coach Guy Thibodeau said. "It's (Wesley's) responsibility as a runner to go out and get it because if Tyler doesn't have his day out there, we hope Wesley will beat everyone to the line."
If JDHS harbors hopes of winning a third consecutive state championship, the rest of the boys' team must raise their game. While the Dinnan twins will be expected to challenge for the individual title, Juneau's remaining five runners might determine the Bears' fate.
JDHS junior Andrew Flansaas has started to emerge as a force late in the season. Flansaas took third place overall at the Region V meet at 16 minutes and 50 seconds and will look to escape the pack early in Saturday's race.
"Andrew had one of his best races last week," Thibodeau said. "He's a threat to be in the top 10. That would be a nice result for him."
Also representing Juneau-Douglas in Soldotna will be Nils Domke, Justin Jones, Hunter Brown and Ray Huebschen.
Domke has been among Juneau's most consistent runners, while Huebschen continues to battle back from an injury suffered in Sitka earlier this season.
If Brown and Jones can sneak into the upper echelon of the standings, JDHS could be bringing home a third straight title.
"As long as everyone has a good race and did our best we'll be all right," said Jones, who set a new personal record last weekend in Ketchikan. "It would be awesome to win a state title, but I don't think that's our main goal right now. We're just there to finish off the season on a high note."
Overall in Soldotna, Dimond, Kodiak and South Anchorage will be among the favorites to knock the Crimson Bears off the winner's podium.
Individually, one runner to watch out for is Palmer's Jake Parisien. The Moose's star captured the Region III title last weekend in 16:39.
"There's some pressure," Tyler Dinnan said. "There's a lot of really good teams this year. Kodiak is going to be good, South is good and Dimond is always tough. There is no room for error this year."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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