After taking first place in the Region V Cross Country Championships in Juneau on Sept. 27, the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears boys' and girls' teams are looking to capitalize at the Class 4A state championship meet in Palmer on Saturday.
The Bears excelled in adverse conditions last weekend without their star runner, three-time defending state champion Leah Francis. Francis will have her opportunity to become just the third female runner in Alaska state history to win four consecutive state crowns.
After battling the flu, as many JDHS runners have recently, Francis said she is ready to represent her school at state.
"I'm going to run this weekend," she said. "I'll be ready, this isn't going to affect me. I'm not going to be sick at state."
As for going for the career sweep, Francis said it is definitely on her mind.
"It's kind of a lot of pressure - not from anyone (else) - but I'd really like to win again. I'm going to be really nervous," she said. "I think it would be really cool to win four times in a row, so that's my goal. It's going to be really scary to stand out there at the starting line knowing so much isat stake."
This meet will mark the end of the line for Francis' prep cross country career, something she said she is quitesentimental about.
"It's really sad it's coming to an end," she said. "I'm excited about college, but cross country has been the best thing abouthigh school.
"It's been one of the most important things in my life."
JDHS girls' coach Merry Ellefson said it's great to see athletes come back healthy in time for state.
"When you get sick, you certainly have to stop and recover. You can't overdo yourself," she said. "So they're doing what they need to do, which is just rest up, and have a lot of confidence in their training and their conditioning."
Ellefson said the state course meet selections run in three-year cycles, and this is the final year it will be running in Palmer. She said the experience the girls have at the course will prove valuable.
"You want to have as much information as you can about the course, and experience on those courses," she said. "So it plays a big part because the kids know how to visualize the course, and they have experience they can draw from."
"I know just being there three weeks ago with the great performances that we will be able to reflect on and get some strength from those, and some confidence," shecontinued. "We're very excited for the kids, and I'm really hoping that they all feel fulfilled by their races."
Boys' coach Guy Thibodeau said the team is lucky to be so deep going to state, as several members of the squad also have battled the flu bug.
"We're pretty interchangeable with our top seven," he said, referring to the fact that four runners on the team have been sick recently.
Thibodeau said they have tried to ease up as far as practices are concerned, but they have tried to keep it business as usual. He said they haven't been doing intervals quite as hard so their legs feel more fresh.
Thibodeau said after the recent success at Palmer and in the regional meet, the team is veryconfident.
"Up front we're looking good, we just need that depth to come through again," he said of his pack runners. "It's been so consistent for us because we have that group of four or five guys just working together to get a really good team score, like we did in Palmer that first time.
"The competition has improved with all the teams up there shooting for us, so we're hopeful we can duplicate what we did there the first time."
When posed with the question of her health being a hindrance Saturday, the typically humble Francis said her confidence hasn't wavered a bit.
"We will be," Francis said about whether she will be celebrating her fourth straight run into therecord books.
After all, this isn't her first rodeo.
Matthew Tynan can be reached at email@example.com.
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