Senior captains Edgar Vera and Etta Eller lead the Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé High School cross-country team in a warmup jog during a rainy day practice near the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center on Monday. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Senior captains Edgar Vera and Etta Eller lead the Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé High School cross-country team in a warmup jog during a rainy day practice near the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center on Monday. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

JDHS runners return to Juneau’s roads and trails with big ambitions

Cross-country coaches and captains share early season goals ahead of joint race with TMHS.

If you happen to see a herd of young runners smiling and laughing amid what appears to be difficult workouts in and around Juneau, you might have stumbled upon the Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé cross-country team.

As the 2023-2024 school year kicks off, so does the cross-country season which is now in full swing for both JDHS and Thunder Mountain High School runners. Following JDHS’ stellar performances at state last season — the girls finished second, the boys fifth — co-head coach Tristan Knutson-Lombardo said this year’s team is perhaps even stronger than before thanks to the seniors leading the team of about 60 runners.

Senior captain Harry Couto runs alongside juniors Elshaday Yerkes and Dashel Culbreth during the Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé High School cross-country team’s warmups ahead of their practice run near the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center on Monday. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Senior captain Harry Couto runs alongside juniors Elshaday Yerkes and Dashel Culbreth during the Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé High School cross-country team’s warmups ahead of their practice run near the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center on Monday. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

“I mean, every season is a special season, but this one really stands out for me because of this group of seniors we have on our team,” he said. “They’ve just been consistent and steady standout leaders — even at a younger age — and I’m really proud of the work that both the boys and the girls have put in over the last three years, and really excited for what they can accomplish this year.”

JDHS senior captain Edgar Vera said he’s “really stoked” for the season ahead and to spend time getting to know the younger athletes.

“I don’t think we have ever had a guy’s team this strong in a really, really long time,” he said. “I’m really looking forward to state and getting to know them a little bit better — I think we’re gonna make some great friendships and set up a really good competition this year.”

Nick Iverson, a junior, leads the Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé High School cross-country team in some stretches during a rainy day practice near the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center on Monday. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Nick Iverson, a junior, leads the Juneau-Douglas Yadaa.at Kalé High School cross-country team in some stretches during a rainy day practice near the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center on Monday. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Even with last season’s fifth-place finish at state — an impressive feat in itself — Vera said this year he thinks the team has a shot at a top-three spot. Looking ahead toward the Sayeik Invitational, he said the race will give the team more insight as to where runners are at in their training so far.

“I’m excited to see where everybody is and I’m excited for the people who haven’t run a 5K to get to know how fun it is, and how challenging and hard,” he said. “It’s a point in our season where we have a chance to look into the later season and set goals because we know what a 5Kfeels like.”

Senior captain Etta Eller agreed and said this year the team is made up of “a really fun group of people.” Earlier in August the team headed to the Yukon for a training camp and to get to know one another more. During an activity there, she said the team decided the words of the season would be “synergy and family.”

“Synergy is a word I really like because it just means that together you’re better than you would be by yourself,” she said. “Often people think running is so individual, but you couldn’t win a cross-country race just by yourself — you need your team to push you and I just love running with these guys.”

Last year Eller was on the girls varsity team when they took home second place at state and she earned a top-10 position in the race. She said though the varsity lineup lost two senior runners, she is confident there is strong potential in some incoming freshmen.

“I think we’re looking ahead to place just as well, if not better,” she said.

Know & Go

What: Sayeik Invitational

Where: Starts at Savikko Park/Sandy Beach area, loops through the Treadwell Historic Mine

When: To be determined. Empire will update as information becomes available.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at clarise.larson@juneauempire.com or (651) 528-1807.

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