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Only in high school cross country is there an actual format to determine a national champion on the field of play.
For more on Saturday's Nike Team Nationals Northwest Championships, including a layout of the Eagle Island State Park course, check out http://www.dyestat.com//?pg=us2007NTNNorthwest
And the Juneau-Douglas High School girls cross country team has a shot to become that national champion.
The Crimson Bears will compete on Saturday at the Nike Team Nationals Northwest Championships in Boise, Idaho.
The JDHS girls - Leah Francis, Katie Krehlik, Kristen Jorgensen, Leigh Miller, Annika Ord, Isabel Bush and Alice Ottoson-McKeen - will take on 16 of the Pacific Northwest's top teams in a 5-kilometer race at Eagle Island State Park. The top two finishes will automatically move on to the Nike Team Nationals on Dec. 1 in Portland, Ore.
The top two teams from nine regions and four at-large squads will then determine who is the nation's best high school cross country team.
"We definitely jumped at the chance to do this one because the girls squad is real competitive," JDHS coach Guy Thibodeau said.
JDHS will be one of two Alaska teams at the event. Defending state champions West Anchorage also will fly south for the race.
The Eagles are ranked seventh in the region, while the Crimson Bears are unranked by the national high school track and field and cross country Web site www.dyestat.com.
While the Crimson Bears will get a second shot at West Anchorage, this event is clearly a different animal.
"It's just a whole different category of racing," JDHS senior Kristen Jorgensen said. "It's no longer a high school team. It's just a group going there and taking on the best. It'll be different and interesting to see how we stack up. I'm excited to see how we do."
Juneau-Douglas tested the regional waters last season and discovered that it can hang with the region's best.
The team finished second in the Adidas Cross Country Invitational last year in Oregon as Francis, then a freshmen, set a new course record.
"I think we'll do really well, but I don't know," JDHS senior Katie Krehlik said. "It's up in the air, but I'm really excited. I think we'll do well because we've been training a lot longer than normal."
Although the Alaska cross country season ended with the state championships on Sept. 29, the Crimson Bears continued training in preparation for Saturday.
Saturday's race, however, will be the team's first big competitive event since September, while the teams in Oregon and Washington competed in their state championships Nov. 3.
"That's the big challenge, getting through the layoff," Thibodeau said. "Practices have been going pretty well, and we did some race-type workouts."
In addition to the girls' race, three JDHS male runners will be making the trek south.
Senior Hunter Brown, junior Daniel Stoops and freshman Zack Bursell will be competing as individuals Saturday.
Brown and Stoops will race in the boys' varsity race, while Bursell with try his luck in the junior varsity-freshman race. The varsity and freshman races are separate from the national-championship qualification races in which the girls will compete.
Still, the boys varsity and freshman races will feature elite competition.
"There's less pressure on us right now," Stoops said of the JDHS boys participating in individual races. "We're going to have a good race. We've been training a lot. It's just about a fun thing to do after cross country is done. We're in shape, and you might as well keep going while you're at you're peak level."
Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at523-2228 at firstname.lastname@example.org.