Juneau’s top high school cross country runners will travel to Anchorage to see who among them can distance from every other runner on the course most effectively at the state championships.
Thirteen Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé High School and Thunder Mountain High School boys and girls will fly to Anchorage on Saturday morning to compete against more than a hundred other runners from across the state in one of the very first events to bring student athletes back together.
“It’s a very different year than we’ve ever had before,” said Thunder Mountain High School coach Sandi Pahlke in a phone interview. “The race is going to be at Kincaid Park. They moved the venue to accommodate — it’s a wider trail. They’re completely separating regions.”
The state meet, which, alongside state tennis competitions, will be some of the first state competitions to return to Alaska, said Pahlke. Strict measures, including sharp limits on the number of runners and onlookers allowed, as well as staggered starts and enforced separation are all in place.
“We’re only taking the top six kids from the region,” Pahlke said. “It makes it awfully sad for the kids. But I totally understand. Basically the summary was, travel at your own risk. Anchorage is not a safe place. It’s unfortunate, because it’s usually a fun weekend.”
Of the students traveling to the finals, JDHS will provide six boys and five girls from their somewhat larger team. TMHS has one boy and one girl going.
“In the world of how sports have changed since March, this is the first state event, this and tennis,” said JDHS coach Merry Ellefson in a phone interview. “I hope this paves the way for other region and state events. I look forward to success and that means healthy and safe competition.”
Seven boys are representing the region because the winner of regionals, Ketchikan High School’s Mickey Lapinski, will not be attending because Ketchikan’s coronavirus regulations forbid travelling for sports. The seventh place in the men’s race had two runners tied at a time of 17 minutes and 52 seconds — TMHS’ Matthew Johns and JDHS’ Samuel Holst. An exception for the seventh runner was asked for and granted by the Alaska School Activities Association, Ellefson said.
“I think there’s some silver linings for our athletes for they way they’re doing it (the meet),” said JDHS coach Tristan Knutson-Lombardo in a phone interview. “We’re focusing on the positives, like that we’re even having a state meet.”
Both teams are working up to the race as the weekend draws close. All of the coaches praised the runners for their hard work in a harder time.
“We were just talking with one of our athletes, and their comment was that we were holding them back this week, and we were saying that’s exactly the kind of mindset that we want them to say coming into this championship,” Knutson-Lombardo said, “They’re confident and energized and ready to go.”
TMHS’ runners are equally ready, Pahlke said.
“I’m very impressed with their resilience all the runners have shown with changes and not being able to run together,” Pahlke said. “Not just for my team but JD- the kids have been great.”
Both teams have promising years coming up, the coaches said. TMHS junior Kiah Dihle won her race by a nearly 30-second lead, and while several of JDHS’s top runners are graduating, many more have at least one more year. JDHS’ boys are affected more severely, graduating 10 seniors, said Ellefson, but there are 19 freshmen coming up.
“We’re graduating a couple seniors off this group that are heading to state. We’re definitely losing some of our top runners and our depth of the seniors,” Knutson-Lombardo said. “I’m kind of the forever optimist, looking at next year. So-and-so is looking really smooth this year, they’re going to be a great addition to the varsity next year.”
The race will be held Saturday, Oct. 10 at Kincaid Park in Anchorage. Livestreaming of the event is available by subscription at the NFHS Network website.