Leah Francis of Juneau-Douglas High School dashed out to a 20 second lead Saturday in the first mile of the girls 5k Run Division 4A State Championship race at Palmer High School.
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She never looked back, and ran away with the state title with a time of 18.52.72. The JDHS girls ran hard as well and took second place out of 11 teams.
Francis claimed her second consecutive Alaska State Cross Country Championship. She proved to herself that she has the talent her coaches have said she has all along.
"It was a great race," Francis said. "I never trailed. Today's race made me realize that I should have more confidence in how good my coaches are."
Three weeks ago, Francis lost a shoe in ankle deep mud puddles and finished a race in the pack. Relishing the opportunity for redemption this weekend, Francis dominated on the dry, renovated trail.
"The course was beautiful," she said. "Running on all the golden leaves and the sun beams coming through the trees, it was something else."
Kirsten Jorgensen ran a mighty race as well. She overtook several other top athletes on the third lap to claim third place. Jorgensen crossed the line with a time of 19:35.34 and praised her coaches and teammates.
"I just can't say enough about this team and about our coaches," Jorgensen said. "I just love them, and we have all worked so hard. We just really gave it all we had,"
The JDHS Crimson Bears came out with every intention of laying it all on the line in pursuit of the state team championship. On the first lap, several of the JDHS runners ran out in the front of the pack, which caused speculation from some of the spectators. Juneau had three of the top five runners in the lead pack heading into the second lap, yet Katie Krehlik, and Annika Ord could not hold on to the leaders and fell behind several other ladies. Krehlik ended up finishing in 17th place with 20:20.70, and Ord took 27th place with 20:42.81.
Leigh Miller wanted to do better.
"We were really hoping to win today," she said. "We did everything in our control to win. I was hoping personally to do a little bit better, too."
Isabel Bush offered some insight into the difficulties the team faced in larger competitions compared to those in Southeast.
"Taking off with so many people is difficult, and there is the extra component of going around people. The races down south are much smaller and less crowded and it makes a big difference."
The girls came to Palmer ready to race, and the team knew what kind of competition they would face off against. Coach Merry Ellefson said the competition is strong.
"We have some of the top teams in the Pacific Northwest here, and we have raced well against them, pretty much for the last couple of years," Ellefson said.
Later, Ellefson quietly elaborated about the high expectations of the team.
"I know several racers would have liked to feel a little bit stronger, but I am really proud of everybody for their efforts, just like all year. It feels like these girls have worked real hard and sometimes it doesn't translate exactly, but we will take that because it is all a part of the growth and setting of other goals."
Several of the departing seniors will be going on to participate in college athletics, but before the seniors look to far ahead, the JDHS cross country teams will be heading to Boise, Idaho, in the middle of November for the Nike Trials Invitational. Last year, Francis won the race held in Portland, Ore., by setting a course record. It promises to be another exciting race.
In the girls 5K Run Division 123A race on Saturday, Haines senior J.J. Lende quietly pursued the Nychele Fischetti of Anchorage Christian for two-and-a-half laps around the one-mile trail. Fischetti's three-second advantage held up, and she maintained the lead position for the entire race, winning in 19:16.99. Fischetti pulled away on the last lap, allowing Lende to cruise easily into second place in 19:26.27.
"I felt great during the race; my training really paid off," Lende said. "I just ignored what my head was telling me and gave it my all. I was tired, real tired, but I knew that my training wouldn't fail me, and (the race) felt great."