The Thunder Mountain High School cross-country team begin their workout during practice outside of the high school Thursday evening. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

The Thunder Mountain High School cross-country team begin their workout during practice outside of the high school Thursday evening. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

The TMHS cross-country team is back — bigger and better than ever before

Practice is underway as runners prepare for an upcoming joint race with JDHS.

The rumble of nearly 70 runners’ sneakers hitting the ground isn’t quite as loud as thunder, but given that the noise comes from the Thunder Mountain High School cross-country team it’s basically the same thing.

The 2023-2024 cross-country season had begun for both TMHS and Juneau-Douglas High School: Kalé runners. This year Thunder Mountain’s team is back — and bigger than ever.

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

The Thunder Mountain High School cross-country team pose for a photo before their practice began outside of the high school Thursday evening. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

The Thunder Mountain High School cross-country team pose for a photo before their practice began outside of the high school Thursday evening. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire)

Jon Stearns, co-head coach of the TMHS cross-country team, said 67 runners are on the books as of the team’s Thursday practice, but he said wouldn’t be surprised if a few more runners get added to the roster in the coming days.

“I think we’ll probably hit 70, which is crazy,” he said.

Stearns said the team this year is predominantly built up of younger runners, but still has a base of returners with strong experience. He said all the boys who raced at state last year are returning, along with only losing one of the girl’s state runners. With experienced racers mixed with the new talent this year, he said he’s “stoked” for what the future holds for the team.

Last season TMHS did not field full teams, but had nine individual qualifiers who competed in the state races. He said he hopes to see more make it this time around. But beyond just the competition aspect of the team, Stearns said he thinks the dynamic between the runners this year is “just awesome.”

“It’s a fun group of kids,” he said. “Even people that aren’t super-stoked to run are pumped to be here and that’s great.”

Captains Calvin Knapp, Justin Scussel, Dori Germain and Sophia Owens agreed.

“We’re excited for everybody and to see what they can get goal-wise,” Scussel said.

“I’m most excited about building the team, and just kind of leading and guiding the team to what we think we can accomplish,” Knapp said. “I’m excited to see where we can go.”

The captains said they hope to see a group of five girls and five boys make it to state this year, which would allow the team to score in the competition. They said the team will have a better idea about who those top runners might be after the Sayeik Invitational, which is set to take place next Saturday.

Stearns said for many runners on the team it will be their first 5K race, which can be an exciting yet daunting feat.

“I think it’s going to be really good exposure and a good spot to judge where we’re at fitness-wise,” he said. “It’s going to be really cool.”

Know & Go

What: Sayeik Invitational

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

When: Saturday, Aug. 26. Community open race at 9 a.m., land acknowledgment at 9:50 a.m., boys race at 10 a.m. and girls race at 10:45 a.m.

• Contact reporter Clarise Larson at or (651) 528-1807.

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