Juneau-Douglas High School cross country athlete Katie Krehlik is among Alaska's top long-distance runners, but not because she's consumed with being the best.
For Krehlik, the joy of running isn't about winning, it's about the act of running.
The Juneau-Douglas girls team will compete in the Alaska School Activities Association State Championships on Saturday at Skyview High School in Soldotna.
Krehlik enjoys jogging on her own, relaying the day in her head or going through stories in her mind. She likes racing, but she also just enjoys getting outside and running.
"In a race, you have a set goal you want to get," Krehlik said. "When you're just running, you just run."
Running is just part of who Krehlik is.
Her pure love of the sport is more than first place medals or breaking records. Simply put, she runs because that's what she likes to do.
"She's a very young runner," JDHS coach Guy Thibodeau said. "She runs for the pure joy of it, that's for sure."
Krehlik, who captured the Region V title last weekend in Ketchikan, helps lead a very talented and deep girls' team. The Crimson Bears are a closely knit crew willing to sacrifice and help each other any way they can.
Nowhere else could that camaraderie and commitment better be illustrated than in last weekend's regional meet.
At the start of the race, the diminutive Krehlik had a pair of bodyguards in teammates Kirsten Jorgensen, a sophomore, and senior Jordan Harvey.
JDHS coach Merry Ellefson had Jorgensen and Harvey flank Krehlik on each side at the start to protect her from getting bumped or trapped behind a pack of runners.
The duo did their job perfectly and helped Krehlik break away for the title. Jorgensen was rewarded with a second-place finish and Harvey took eighth place overall.
"When you get to the start of the race, everyone sort of gets towards a point, like geese going in a point," Harvey said. "I've been known to get out there and fight for it. I'm not afraid to do that, so with one on one side and the other on the other side of Katie, we can guide her into it and not get blocked in."
Fighting through the pack will be crucial if Juneau-Douglas wants to perform its best at the state meet this Saturday.
Ellefson said she will probably tab Jorgensen and Harvey again to serve as Krehlik's personal escorts on Saturday.
Harvey said she loves her role and wants to see her teammates do their best.
"I think it's awesome," Harvey said. "Katie's done so well this year. I'm just so impressed with her enthusiasm and just getting out there and doing what she needs to do. I love this thing so much, it's awesome."
Jorgensen has been one of the Bears' best runners this season. Jorgensen will look to improve on her 21st place finish in last year's state championship race.
Jorgensen and Krehlik lead a very strong sophomore class into Saturday's race that also features Leigh Miller, Isabel Bush and Brittany Lehnhart.
Bush is definitely a Juneau-Douglas athlete to watch this weekend. After missing the first half of the season with injuries, Bush has excelled late in the season.
Bush won the Wrangell Invitational, took third in Skagway and competed in a time trial over a three-week span. After getting some rest following the region meet, Thibodeau believes Bush could peak at Soldotna.
"The rest she gets should help her bounce back," Thibodeau said. "She did well in Skagway, had a nice run in Wrangell and did a time trial after that. She's been over-raced the last couple of weeks so this is a nice peaking week for her. She can rest up and have a good, solid race."
The two seniors, Jordan Moser and Harvey, both served as rocks of stability for this young team.
The senior class accepted the roles of being team leaders and have helped the younger runners prepare themselves for Saturday's big race.
"Up there, you have to fight for your positions and be aggressive the whole race," Harvey said. "And a lot of these girls don't realize how aggressive you have to be. You can't just be physically into it and just run it, you have to get your mind into it and prepare yourself for a big race."
While Juneau-Douglas has been a strong team all season, the favorite should be considered West Valley.
Thibodeau said the Wolfpack have five different runners who broke the 20 minutes barrier this season.
No matter which position the Crimson Bears finish, though, they will end the season as they started - as a close squad willing to do whatever it takes to help each other.
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org