Etta Eller started out amid a long line of 84 runners from six Southeast Alaska schools in the region’s largest race of the season Saturday, but was all alone five kilometers later when she crossed the finish line about 13 seconds ahead of her closest challenger in the region’s largest cross-country race of the season Saturday.
Eller, an 11th grade student from Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé, led a dominant girls’ team performance in the Capital City Invite during an occasionally rainy Saturday morning at A Káx Yaa Andagan Yé (Sandy Beach). The partial-dirt course though the baseball fields and Treadwell Historic Mine Trail was sloppy in some places following heavy rain Friday, but Eller said it didn’t affect her performance.
“It’s muddy, but I love it,” she said after completing the race in 19:24.58. “This is our home course. I run it every week.”
The large-scale meet was also Eller’s first race against some of the regional athletes competing to go the state championship, but she said that also served as a motivator.
“When there’s more people you can focus more into it, on the people around you,” she said.
Saturday’s meet was the last regular season event before runners compete in regional championship set to take place in Sitka this weekend, which will determine which Southeast Alaska varsity teams and runners will compete at the Oct. 8 state championship in Anchorage.
Sitka was the top team finisher among the 10 regional schools with boys’ runners, with a team score of 41, according to results available at https://www.athletic.net. That was followed by JDHS with a score of 46, Wrangell with 61 and Thunder Mountain High School with 102. The top girls’ team scores were JDHS at 21, Sitka with 57, Petersburg with 88 and THMS with 90.
Among individuals, Eller’s top finish among girls was followed by Ida Meyer of JDHS at 19:37.70, Anna Prussian of Sitka at 19:45.17, Clare Mullin of Sitka at 19:45.55 and Rayna Tuckwood of JDHS at 20:01.02.
The top boys’ finishers among the 145 runners were Silas Demmert of Sitka at 16:51.64, Kona Atkins of JDHS at 16:53.49, Trey Demmert of Sitka at 16:54.11, Edgar Vera Alvarado of JDHS at 16:57.61 and Daniel Harrison of Wrangell at 16:59.27.
Coaches at JDHS and Thunder Mountain High School both expressed optimism Monday about students at their schools making it the state competition.
“Barring anything catastrophic we are hoping to walk away with the regional title and send our team to state,” said JDHS Coach Tristan Knutson-Lombardo.
JDHS is leading Thunder Mountain and Ketchikan among regional Division 1 schools, despite this being something of a rebuilding year for the team of about 70 runners, he said. But Saturday’s meet shows the runners’ progress throughout the season.
“They had by far the best race collectively this season they’ve had,” Knutson-Lombardo said, noting a number of personal records were set. “They did the course five or six weeks ago. I think they on average shaved a minute off their times from earlier this season.”
Similarly, there were 26 personal records and six seasonal records among the roughly 65 runners at TMHS, said Jon Stearns, the school’s coach. He acknowledged JDHS teams are having a strong year — in particular, “their girls’ team is running phenomenally” — but TMHS’ runners remain contenders for state both as a team and individually going to Sitka this weekend.
“Our boys would have to run the races our lives” to surpass JDHS as a team, he said. But he said TMHS is well-positioned to send four runners each from the girls’ and boys’ teams.
While JDHS is going through a rebuilding year, Stearns said it’s the build-up of TMHS’ team — which had only about 25 runners a year ago — that is encouraging, along with vast improvements in times during that year.
The size of Saturday’s meet, while energizing for some runners, was also “a lot of conversation about breathing and not getting caught up in all the hype,” Stearns said.
Some of the visiting students running the muddy course Saturday got some helpful hints from the five people competing in an open-registration 5K before the school races. Finishing second among the five was Trever Olsen, 20, a Hydaburg resident who was a cross-country competitor for his school and was a coach for the two boys and one girl at Saturday’s event.
“The hills were hard,” he said. “Some parts were muddy and slippery on corners.”
But the challenging conditions — hardly a novelty for Southeast Alaska during the fall — should serve those students going to state well, Stearns said.
“It was actually a really good dress rehearsal for those runners that are going to state because that course can get really sloppy and hilly.”
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at email@example.com