Three members of the Juneau-Douglas High School cross country team will try their hands at one of the nation's biggest racing events in December.
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Two-time defending state champion and JDHS sophomore Leah Francis, senior Katie Krehlik and freshman Zack Bursell are slated to compete in the 2007 Foot Locker Western Regional Cross Country Championships on Dec. 1 at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif.
The trio is currently training with Juneau physician and accomplished athlete John Bursell. In October, Bursell competed in the Ironman World Championships triatholon in Kona, Hawaii.
"All three are really strong," John Bursell said. "We just did an interval workout on Treadwell Trails and they're really solid on their times and looked real good."
Despite the official state cross country season ending in September, training and racing has continued for some of the Crimson Bears.
On Nov. 10, the JDHS girls team and three members of the boys team competed in the Nike Team Nationals Northwest Championships in Boise, Idaho. Francis won that 5K race in 18 minutes, 20.9 seconds.
"It's pretty impressive that these kids are maintaining their fitness for a long time," John Bursell said. "I thought they'd be tired or a little burned out, but they're excited and strong."
With the Nike Team Nationals series determines the nation's best high school cross country team, the Foot Locker series ventures to find out the United State's top individual high school cross country runner.
The Foot Locker Western Regional Cross Country Championships is one of four regional high school cross country championships. The top eight finishers in each race qualify for the Foot Locker Cross Country National Championships on Dec. 8 in San Diego.
Last year as a freshman, Francis finished 17th in the seeded race for the region's elite in Walnut, Calif., in 19:02. She was the fastest Alaskan, second-fastest freshman and just 26 seconds behind the final qualifier for nationals. Also, nine of the runners who finished higher than her last year are now graduated.
"Last year I would go really hard on the hills and pass a lot of people and then they'd pass me on the downhills because I was tired and I wasn't good at the downhills," Francis said. "This year, I'm better at downhills so I think I can recover and still be fast."
JDHS coach Guy Thibodeau said winning the Nike Team Nationals regional race could be a good omen for the sophomore.
"She's had so many good races," Thibodeau said. "I think it's a good omen for her to have a good race in Boise so she's on track. She had a good time trial last weekend."
She'll be the only one competing in the seeded race, which serves as the national qualifier and features the toughest competition.
Zack Bursell will be competing in the boys' freshman race while Krehlik will compete in a race reserved for seniors. While those races aren't eligible for the national championships, Krehlik said she'll have more fun racing against the seniors.
"In the senior race, I'll be running closer to the front and it'll be more fun," she said.