Led by a ninth-place finish from senior Hilary Young and an 11th from junior Heidi Denton, the Juneau-Douglas High School girls cross country team claimed third place in the Class 4A state championships Saturday at Palmer High School.
The Crimson Bear girls were just 10 points behind the Chugiak Mustangs, who dethroned the three-time defending champion East Anchorage Thunderbirds for the team title. Chugiak scored 73 points, followed by East with 78 and Juneau with 83. Ketchikan took sixth place with 147 points.
Kris Smith of West Anchorage won the girls individual race with a time of 18 minutes, 21.0 seconds. Marci Mohler of Skyview took second place in 19:01.0, followed by Colony's Dominique Colberg in 19:02.0, Bartlett's Christina Copus in 19:03.0 and Chugiak's Morgan Ekemo in 19:18.0.
Young took ninth in 19:32.4 and Denton was 11th in 19:50.0 to lead Juneau. Ketchikan had Elisa Bolling finish seventh in 19:28.0 and Jodi Jakubek was 12th in 19:51.0 to round out the top Southeast finishers in the girls race.
"I was kind of disappointed to be 10 points from winning, but third place is better than Juneau's done in several years," Young said, who said she'd hoped to finish in the top 10. "That was my goal. It was harder than I thought it was going to be. I wasn't feeling good like I did in the last race (a victory in the Region V-Class 4A meet on Sept. 22)."
"We were really hoping for the best," Juneau head coach Guy Thibodeau said. "We didn't quite get the grouping up front we wanted."
On the first lap of Palmer's three-lap, five-kilometer course, Smith jumped out to an early lead followed by a small pack of runners led by Copus. Then, Juneau's whole team followed the lead group en masse.
But as the race went on, Juneau's grouping broke apart and only Young and Denton were able to stay near the front pack. Juneau's third runner was Greta Thibodeau in 27th place, followed by Molly Krehlik in 31st, Brittany Rohm in 32nd, Elisa Wahto in 51st and Emily Krehlik in 60th place.
"I'm happy with our team," Molly Krehlik said. "I think we ran our best."
"I think we all worked hard as a team. We missed second by only five points," Rohm said. "We weren't expecting to win, just hoping. It's hard at state because you get boxed in. It's the best we've done in four years, so we're happy with that."
Juneau only has three seniors on the team -- Young, Rohm and Emily Krehlik -- so four of the runners will be back next year. This was the first year since 1997 the state meet was on the Michael Janecek Trails at Palmer High School, so many of the Crimson Bears were unfamiliar with the course.
"I'm really disappointed. I set high goals, five of them, and I missed them all," Greta Thibodeau said. "There's still next year. We really thought we were going to win. It was close. I think we went out a little too fast, but we learned for next year. We've got at least two more years on this course."
In the boys Class 4A race, Juneau senior Jesse Stringer made a late charge and ended up finishing third in the individual standings.
In the lead lap, Soldotna's Kyle McBride led seven or eight runners in the front pack but Stringer wasn't close to the group after a poor start. As the runners spread out over the course, though, Stringer put on a burst of speed and began passing bunches of runners.
McBride took first place in 16:15.0, followed by Palmer's Drew Dickson in 16:30.0 and Stringer in 16:32.0. Service's Ted O'Reilly finished fourth in 16:38.0 and Stig Yngve of Kodiak rounded out the top-five finishers in 16:40.0. Stringer was the only Southeast runner to finish among the top 25.
"I got boxed in in the beginning," Stringer said. "All of my final passes were two or three people at a time, until the last pass when I caught O'Reilly. I was taking the risks you need to take at the state meet. I didn't know I was that close to him (Dickson) at the end, and I guess he was dying. I wish I'd have known, but this is how it ended up."
Stringer, who had to drop out midway through last year's state race because of illness, was happy with the way he closed out his high school cross country career. He said after getting boxed in, his focus became trying to work his way back to the front pack.
"I was busy trying to catch up," Stringer said. "It didn't matter about the hills, the dust or the fatigue, I was just trying to catch up. (Former Juneau runner) Maria Eley got third place at state (cross country), then won state in track. I've still got plenty of time. I feel blessed by God with the way I've run the last three years, so I'm happy with my finish."
In the team standings, Juneau took eighth place with 163 points. Soldotna won its second-straight title with 74 points, followed by Palmer with 84 and Kodiak with 85. Ketchikan qualified to send a team to state, but only sent three runners.
Besides Stringer, the other Juneau runners were Tristan Knutson-Lombardo in 35th place, Bryce Iverson in 38th, Jordan Davis in 65th, Blake Rider in 71st, Axel Thibodeau in 74th and Christopher Frank in 76th. Stringer and Rider are the only seniors in the group.
"We had two freshmen and I'm a sophomore. We had four people who were new to state," Davis said. "We'll have this course for three more years, so we know what to do now."
"They were getting shoved around and they're not used to that," Stringer said of the younger Juneau runners. "It wasn't just a lot of jostling. You have to get people out of the way."
Guy Thibodeau said Iverson was running well, but an injury slowed him down and he basically finished the course with one good leg.
"Bryce was 15th when he turned his ankle, fell and spiked himself," Thibodeau said. "He limped the last lap-and-a-half and had to go the hospital to get stitched up after the race. He would have been a solid top-15 finisher and would have been the second freshman."
In the boys Class 1A-2A-3A race, Skagway won a tie-breaker with Bethel for fourth place in the team standings. Valdez won the team title with 59 points, followed by Nikiski with 63 and Anchorage Christian Schools with 64. Skagway and Bethel both had 131 points, and Skagway got the nod because of a better finish by its sixth-place runner. Mount Edgecumbe of Sitka took 10th place with 228 points.
Chester Bukowski of Bethel won the individual title in 16:49.0, followed by Nick Weicht of Valdez in 16:59.0 and Chris Eversman of Eielson in 17:04.0. Russell Bush of Skagway was the top Southeast finisher in 11th place and teammate Kyle Mulvihill was 22nd.
In the girls Class 1A-2A-3A race, Daniell Pratt and Ashley Thomas led a 1-2 finish by Grace Christian School as the Grizzlies won their second-straight team title. Grace scored 41 points to beat Susitna Valley with 55 and Seward with 59. Mount Edgecumbe took ninth place with 224 points. Craig qualified a team, but didn't send a full squad to state.
Pratt won the individual race in 19:46.0, followed by Thomas in 19:59.0 and Taz Mannix of Susitna Valley in 20:22.0. Anjuli Haydu of Craig took ninth place, Chrissy Morris of Kake was 11th and Wrangell's Brook Williams was 25th to lead the Southeast runners.