Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé senior Sadie Tuckwood signs a National Letter of Intent with Gonzaga University with her mother, Cindy, watching on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé senior Sadie Tuckwood signs a National Letter of Intent with Gonzaga University with her mother, Cindy, watching on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Tuckwood becomes first JDHS girls runner to go D1 in 9 years

She signed a letter of intent Monday.

Sadie Tuckwood runs long distances, but she didn’t necessarily want to travel them to get to college.

While Tuckwood considered college running opportunities in Colorado and Wisconsin, the four-year varsity cross country runner at Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaat.at Kalé signaled her intentions to stay in the Northwest on Monday afternoon in the JDHS commons.

The JDHS senior signed a National Letter of Intent with the Gonzaga University running program in front of roughly 80 students at a brief ceremony that included remarks by Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss, coaches Merry Ellefson and Tristan Knutson-Lombardo and several teammates.

“It was kind of a hard decision, but I didn’t have that many on my list to begin with, so that really helped a lot,” Tuckwood said. “Spokane’s pretty close and Gonzaga’s a really good academic school, too, so that’s good.”

Leah Francis, a 2010 JDHS and 2015 Stanford University graduate, was the last JDHS girls runner to join a Division I program.

Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé senior Sadie Tuckwood signed a National Letter of Intent with Gonzaga University on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé senior Sadie Tuckwood signed a National Letter of Intent with Gonzaga University on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

“It’ll be another step above high school, and I don’t know, I think it’ll be fun to see how much better I can get,” Tuckwood said in an interview after the signing.

Tuckwood, the 2016-17 Alaska Gatorade Cross Country Runner of the Year, finished her decorated cross country career last month at Washington state’s Nike Hole in the Wall Invitational. The Crimson Bear finished fifth out of over 300 runners from the Pacific Northwest in the event, racing to a personal-best time of 17 minutes, 36 seconds in the 5-kilometer race.

As a junior, Tuckwood led the Crimson Bear girls squad to its first state championship in over two decades and this year won her fourth Region V title in a row. In 2017, the multi-sport standout ran the fastest-ever time for a freshman at the Alaska state meet, shocking the field with her title-winning 18:16 performance.

“She always pushed me and Tristan, she pushed us to get better and to strategize differently to help her reach her potential,” Ellefson said.

The Bulldog women placed fourth at the West Coast Conference championship meet and 15th at the NCAA Division I West Regional this season. Fellow Alaskan Grace Fahrney, 2019 graduate of Service High School, currently runs for the Bulldogs.

“I think Gonzaga is the perfect fit for her in many ways,” Knutson-Lombardo said. “Above all else, she’s going to get a great education, that’s of course in the big scheme of things, that’s the important piece. But additionally, as far as the cross country team, she’s going to walk on to that team and make an impact right away … where she’s having a meaningful contribution but is still going to be pushed to that next level.”

Tuckwood said she’s thought about studying biology at Gonzaga, but she isn’t 100% sure.

Gonzaga competes in the NCAA Division I West Coast Conference with nine other schools in Oregon, California and Washington. The Catholic school is located in Spokane, Washington, about 300 miles east of Seattle.

“A lot to be excited about with Sadie joining our program,” Gonzaga women’s cross country and track head coach Jake Stewart said in a press release. “She’s shown really great consistency on the track throughout her high school career, and she’s coming off her best cross country season to date. Sadie’s got the chance to come into our program and help us continue to move forward. We’re happy Sadie is going to be a Zag.”

Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé senior Sadie Tuckwood poses with coaches Merry Ellefson, left, and Tristan Knutson-Lombardo after signing a National Letter of Intent with Gonzaga University on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)

Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé senior Sadie Tuckwood poses with coaches Merry Ellefson, left, and Tristan Knutson-Lombardo after signing a National Letter of Intent with Gonzaga University on Monday, Nov. 18, 2019. (Michael Penn | Juneau Empire)


• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or nainsworth@juneauempire.com.