The high school cross country season in Alaska has been over for nearly two months.
But as many as nine high school cross country runners from Southeast, including seven from Juneau, will be in action this weekend at the Foot Locker Western Regional meet Saturday at Mount San Antonio College in Walnut, Calif. The meet is one of four qualifiers for the Foot Locker National Championships, which take place Dec. 8 in Orlando, Fla.
"In the last couple of years we've had three or four people a year go down," said Juneau-Douglas High School cross country coach Guy Thibodeau, who is also attending the meet. "But this year it's looking like seven or eight, though it may end up only being six (from Juneau)."
The Western Regional consists of 23 different races, with races for seeded runners who finished among the top couple of athletes from each state based on their times and finishes at their respective state meets, plus several other races for various age groups ranging from seventh and eighth grades through high school seniors.
Juneau senior Jesse Stringer, who took third place in this year's state meet, is entered in the boys seeded race. He had plans of visiting colleges in Montana and Idaho for recruiting trips on his way home, but Thibodeau said Stringer might not make the trip because of a lingering case of bronchitis that sent him to the hospital earlier this week.
Other Juneau boys entered are Bryce Iverson in Race 22, for freshmen, and Gabe Hayden in Race 15, for juniors. Four Juneau girls are entered -- Emily Krehlik in Race 7 for seniors, Brittany Rohm in Race 6 for seniors, Molly Krehlik in Race 4 for juniors and Greta Thibodeau in Race 16 or Race 17 for sophomores.
The Juneau runners will be competing as part of a Team Alaska contingent led by West Anchorage High School coach Joe Alward and Kodiak High coach Marcus Dunbar, and between 35-40 Alaska runners are entered in the various regional races.
Two other runners from Southeast are entered -- Russell Bush of Skagway in Race 20 for sophomore boys and Erin Nugent of Ketchikan in Race 16 for sophomore girls.
The athletes all had to raise their own money for the trip, but coach Thibodeau said the meets are heavily scouted by college coaches and the exposure can result in a scholarship for some runners.
Thibodeau said three runners from Juneau went to last year's regional meet -- Stringer, Brandy Weston and Breanne Rohm. Weston and Rohm have both made the jump to NCAA Division II college programs this year (Weston at national champion Western State College in Gunnison, Colo., and Rohm at Seattle Pacific University), and Stringer has been recruited by several NCAA Division I colleges.
The meet can also provide opportunities for runners like Hayden, who didn't make Juneau's varsity team this year but wanted to show their dedication to the sport. Hayden was probably Juneau's 10th to 12th man last fall, Thibodeau said, but "he's really improved since cross country. He's really pretty fit now and he's somebody to watch out for in track."
"I think the kids go down there and they come back reenergized and committed to running," Thibodeau said of the meet. "They learn how much better a runner they can be if they keep running through the winter instead of taking six months off."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
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