The Juneau-Douglas High School girls cross country team completed the leap of a lifetime on Saturday afternoon at Bartlett High School.
A year after finishing in seventh place in the ASAA/First National Bank Alaska state cross country meet, the JDHS girls bolted to first on Saturday, winning their second state championship in team history and the first in 23 years.
The Crimson Bears scored a meet-low 71 points to defeat Service High School (77 points), West Valley (95) and South Anchorage (96). Juniors Sadie Tuckwood and Anna Iverson finished in the top-12 at the state meet for the third time. Unlike the past two years, however, Tuckwood and Iverson’s teammates were right on their heels. Junior Katie McKenna, whose foot pain kept her from finishing last year’s meet, finished in 17th place, and freshmen Trinity Jackson and Annika Schwartz came in 25th and 26th, respectively.
“I’m just so excited and proud of our whole team,” Iverson said. “Running the race and seeing how everyone came in was really exciting.”
That excitement temporarily turned into shock shortly after the race. Before getting ready for their own race, the JDHS boys broke the news to their teammates.
“We all kind of knew we could or had a chance but I didn’t really know if a lot of us thought it would actually happen,” Tuckwood said. “We were really hoping for runner-up and then they told us. It’s just really cool because we’ve all be working really hard and running together. Everyone uses each other to make everyone faster.”
The team set a goal at the beginning of the season to finish in the top-five at the state meet.
“From the start, I kind of knew that we would be able to achieve that because we just have so many new, strong and fast freshmen and underclassmen on our team,” Iverson said. “But I had no idea that we would do this well up at state.”
Like the past two years, Tuckwood and West Valley’s Kendall Kramer went toe-to-toe at the front of the pack. Tuckwood, the 2016 state champion, stayed with Kramer, the 2017 state champion, as long as she could, but Kramer started to pull away about halfway through the race. Kramer crossed the tape in 17 minutes, 51 seconds, while Tuckwood finished in 18:18, a 40-second improvement from last season’s state meet on the same course. Eagle River’s Emily Walsh (18:30) finished in third and South Anchorage’s Ava Earl (18:38) came in fourth.
“Last year kind of was an awful race, it was kind of my worst race of the season,” Tuckwood said. “So this one was more like my normal race.”
Iverson (19:44) finished in 12th place for the second straight year and was followed by McKenna (19:59), Jackson (20:20) and Schwartz (20:22).
“What really made the difference this year for me was to have my teammates around, Anna Iverson ahead of me, Annika and Trinity just right around me,” McKenna said. “They started in front of me and I just knew that I had to stick with them because I knew there’s a lot of power sticking together.”
Freshman McKenna McNutt (21:42) finished in 52nd place and sophomore Jasmin Holst (21:59) came in 59th place.
McNutt, who ran three seasons in middle school, said this year has shown her a new side to the sport.
“Coming out of middle school the team wasn’t really close or anything and this year it seemed a lot closer,” McNutt said. “It’s really fun and it’s really sparked a new interest in cross country for me.”
JDHS co-coach Merry Ellefson said Saturday’s race was the culmination of a lot of work by many different people.
“The result today is everybody working hard together; us taking a team this year that’s faster because everyone’s working hard,” she said. “We also have an amazing crew of assistant coaches where our athletes get the support and attention better than we’ve been able to do (in the past) because we’ve grown (to) 65 (runners) over the last few years.”
JDHS boys finish in 6th
The JDHS boys also climbed up the team standings. After three straight years of finishing in last place, JDHS jumped into sixth place in Saturday’s meet.
The Dimond High School boys won their first state championship in over two decades, trumping second-place Chugiak and third-place West Anchorage.
Chugiak senior Daniel Bausch ran away with the individual title, finishing in 15:30, while Dimond junior Santiago Prosser and Service sophomore Alexander Maurer finished in second and third, respectively.
Senior Arne Ellefson-Carnes led the Crimson Bears with his best finish at the state meet (5th, 16:25) and Ambrose Bucy (35th, 17:20), Clem Taylor-Roth (36th, 17:21), Ronan Davies (52nd, 17:59) and Koby Goldstein (53rd, 18:00) all finished on or under 18:00. Finn Morley came in 65th place and Dalton Hoy finished in 67th place.
Ellefson-Carnes, Taylor-Roth, Davies and Hoy are all seniors.
“It’s pretty bittersweet,” JDHS co-coach Tristan Knutson-Lombardo said of the seniors’ races. “For Dalton it was his first state meet, Arne and Clem this is their fourth, Ronan his second. It was nice to have them. There’s going to be big gaps, big holes to fill next year between their leadership on the course and off the course.”
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or email@example.com. Follow Empire Sports on Twitter at @akempiresports