There are a lot of moving parts on a cross country team with close to 70 runners. Leadership on the part of the upperclassmen isn’t a bonus; it’s vital.
“To try to get everybody on the same page — this is the hardest part of the year right here,” JDHS co-coach Tristan Knutson-Lombardo said Tuesday. The Crimson Bears are now in their fifth week of practice. “But it’s also the coolest part because we have so many experienced runners on the team that it’s really easy to say, ‘You know, just fold in with your teammates, and you’re going to learn by doing and seeing.’”
Junior Sadie Tuckwood, the 2016 state champion, and junior Anna Iverson are two of those experienced runners. With two meets in the books, both are looking sharp for the region and state meet. But perhaps the biggest highlight so far has been junior Katie McKenna.
McKenna ran 40 seconds faster in Saturday’s meet, the Sitka Invitational, than in the Douglas Island Mini-Meet a week prior. McKenna’s time at the Sitka Invite (20:17) was over two minutes faster than what she ran at the same meet last year (22:24).
“I just stayed running through the whole summer so then once cross country season started, I could be at a different place with my running and I could just work on getting in shape,” McKenna said. “So I knew that I was at a different place but I was curious to find out what that would be.”
McKenna was one of five Crimson Bears — including freshmen Annika Schwartz and Trinity Jackson — who finished their respective races in under 22 minutes. The sixth runner, McKenna McNutt, another freshman, clocked a 22:01. Schwartz improved her times drastically over the first two meets, moving into the No. 4 spot on the girls team. She said she’s had to push herself harder than she did in middle school.
“I didn’t really have a good idea of how fast I could run until we (began) practice everyday,” Schwartz said.
Sophomores Jasmin Holst and Linnea Lentfer and senior Gretchen Neal will all likely file somewhere behind Schwartz.
“This is the closest I’ve been but with these fast freshmen, I’m happy for the team and I want whatever’s best for them,” Neal said. “I just work my hardest at practice and I see where I get.”
Neal was impressed at how many personal records the team saw at the Sitka Invite.
“I think that just says a lot about the training and the work we’ve been putting in,” Neal said. “It’s been different this year. We’ve been training a lot harder and we haven’t had as many scavenger hunts or easy days.”
Senior captain Arne Ellefson-Carnes said the boys team isn’t looking for any shortcuts either.
Ellefson-Carnes is a two-time reigning Region V champion and has posted top-15 finishes in the last two state meets. And while his individual success has been nice, he’d trade it for team success. The Crimson Bears have finished dead last in team standings for three straight years.
“Throughout my high school career I’ve just noticed the team’s not necessarily gotten less fun, but we’ve really started really focusing on working hard and trying to get our best team together and starting to be a more competitive team at state,” Ellefson-Carnes said.
That competitive team will include sophomore Finn Morley and seniors Ronan Davies and Clem Taylor-Roth.
“As we want to be competitive on the state level, they’re pretty key runners for us,” Knutson-Lombardo said. “Finn was a really standout freshman for us last year but got injured with the season. So with another year of running under his belt and strength just from getting older, he’s just looking even stronger. To get him and Ronan (Davies) down into the low-17s (minutes) is really key for these guys to be competitive on the state level.”
Knutson-Lombardo said Davies’ decision to train in the summer was a smart one. He, like McKenna, took off close to two minutes from his time in Sitka this year (17:28) compared to last year (19:15).
“He’s gone from being on the edge of varsity to being one of the leaders on the varsity team,” Knutson-Lombardo said.
The following varsity spots will be likely come down to a half dozen runners such as senior Owen Squires and juniors Ambrose Bucy, Koby Goldstein and Max Dapcevich.
The Crimson Bears will pack the starting line of Saturday’s Skagway Invitational. The team is bringing just shy of 60 runners to the meet. The boys are set to run at 11:30 a.m. and the girls’ race begins at 12:15 p.m.
Learn about the Thunder Mountain cross country team in Friday’s paper.
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports.