SITKA — Having won every Region V team title since 1990, Juneau-Douglas High School’s cross country boys have a lot to live up to. For sophomore Arne Ellefson-Carnes, who finished first overall at Saturday’s Region V cross country championship meet in Sitka, the Crimson Bears’ legacy serves as both motivation and pressure.
“Knowing that we come from a long line of winning teams and trying to continue that legacy, it really helps,” Ellefson-Carnes said. “We don’t want to be that team that doesn’t win Regions.”
Juneau-Douglas High School took both the boys and girls team titles Saturday at Sitka’s Totem Park, with the boys logging their 27th-straight Region V title and the girls completing a three-peat.
Though a second-place finish would hardly be shameful for JDHS, both the girls and boys teams have strived for excellence this year behind breakout performances from Ellefson-Carnes and second place finisher Clem Taylor-Roth for the boys team.
Freshman phenoms Sadie Tuckwood and Anna Iverson led the way for the girls, finishing first and third respectively.
Tuckwood, a recent transplant from Dillingham, improved on the Region-best 18 minutes and 22 seconds she logged last week at the Juneau Invitational, shaving ten seconds off her time for 18:12.41 at Regionals. Tuckwood’s time would be good for eleventh in the boys race and currently stands, statewide, as the season’s fastest time.
Somehow that’s not good enough for the freshman.
“I wanted to break 18 minutes, but I didn’t,” Tuckwood said after beating a field mostly consisting of upperclassmen. “That’s just my goal, and I’m still really happy.”
If Tuckwood is the natural, Thunder Mountain High School junior Erin Wallace, the girls second place finisher, is the workhorse. Wallace, a state medalist in track, ran a 19:09.41, nearly a full minute faster than her early-season times.
Southeast’s smaller 1A, 2A and 3A schools run separately from 4A competition, a distinction from regular-season meets which can leave runners feeling lost. Wallace has experienced this before and knew how to keep a competitive pace without runners pushing her from behind.
“I just kept the positive thoughts running through my head, kept saying to myself ‘You can do this Erin,’” Wallace said. “That kept me motivated.”
Wallace’s experienced pacing helped keep Iverson competitive Saturday. The freshman finished 31 seconds behind Wallace at 20:40.60. Iverson was one of five JDHS girls to finish in the top 10.
“I have one person who I usually look at,” Iverson said, referring to Wallace. “So it didn’t affect me too much, not having as many runners out there.”
Seniors Elizabeth Ramseth, Jessie Greg and junior Team Captain Gillian Smith rounded out the top 10 for JDHS. Thunder Mountain logged two top-10 finishes in the girls race; in addition to Wallace, sophomore Sally Thomson finished fourth overall at 21:21.57.
Taylor-Roth, a sophomore, surprised the field with his 17:28.01.
“I started fast; I went out with Arne (Ellefson-Carnes) for the first 200 meters,” Taylor-Roth said. “So I slowed down a bit and ran with someone from Thunder Mountain and someone from Ketchikan.”
TMHS senior Justin Sleppy took fourth overall, saying he benefitted from fast pacing from Taylor-Roth, in front of him, and JDHS’ Tim McKenna behind. Sitka’s flat course is both soft and fast, which aided Sleppy in breaking the 18-minute barrier, a goal he’s had since he started cross country two years ago.
“The front group went out a lot faster than they are supposed to, and you get that nervousness that you have to keep up with them,” Sleppy said. “Once you get into the rhythm of things, you get these small groups. So I got to run with Clem and Tim and we had a really strong pack going. Eventually Tim dropped back, and I was just running with Clem, which was intimidating because he’s put up some really fast times this year. … It was really amazing to PR here because the state course is a lot harder, and I don’t think I’ll be able to run as fast up there.”
Having won Regions, JDHS will send seven boys and seven girls to the state meet Oct. 1 at Bartlett High School in Anchorage. Thunder Mountain qualified two boys and two girls for the state meet.
According to both Ellefson-Carnes and Sleppy, who competed for a state title last year, that race is a whole different ball game.
“Coming out of the gate, it’s really aggressive. There’s a lot of bumping, a lot of elbows flying everywhere,” Sleppy said.
“Last year, there were 20 or so people coming in between 16:20 and 17 flat,” Ellefson-Carnes, who ran 17.00.13, said. “You never know what can happen. It’s going to be exciting and unpredictable.”
Region V championship
Girls team scores:
1. JDHS 28; 2. TMHS 49; 3. Kayhi 51
Boys team scores:
1. JDHS 29; 2. Kayhi 41; 3. TMHS 51
For full results, go online to juneauempire.com.