Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - They may look a little different on the trails but the core philosophy of the Thunder Mountain High School Falcons cross-country team still features a love for running and a talented upper class to preach that love.
“I am really excited for this year,” senior Kiah Dihle said. “We have brand new coaches so it is trying new things out and we have new kids. This is the biggest our team has been in a while and we are very excited. We love running and helping the younger runners get started.”
The coronavirus pandemic forced the Alaska School Activities Association to limit competitions last season and only the top six individuals from the various region championships competed in the state championship at Anchorage.
Dihle posted last season’s fastest Region V state qualifying time, winning the Region V girls championship in 19:26. She was the only southeast female runner to place in the top 15 at the state championships, finishing eighth with a time of 19:19. As a sophomore she also placed eighth at state, in 19:10, and as a freshman she ran 20:40
Falcons senior Matthew Johns tied for sixth place in the Region V tournament boys race last season, qualifying for state in 17:52. He placed 37th at state in a time of 17:58.
“This year we have brand new coaches and everything so it will be cool to see how we do this year,” Johns said. “A lot of new kids. As a senior this year it will be cool to kind of lead the team and see what these new kids have to offer. It feels pretty good with that responsibility. Normally running you are kind of paced with the group and this year we have a really good group of kids that can keep together. It feels good to have this many runners. Normally we have 25 kids, and we have over 40 right now.”
A large crop of runners can be hard for even experienced coaches to harvest but new Falcons’ coaches Topaz Shryock and Kent Mearig bring their own middle school and high school competition experience to the team.
“All kids are welcome,” Shryock said. “We are really excited. Anyone that wants to join we are excited to have them. We are going to have them all setting their own goals and then team goals. That is kind of the core of it. The more the merrier. We are going to talk with the team to come up with that. We haven’t formatted that quite yet.”
Shryock is a 1995 Kodiak graduate and Mearig a 2000 Juneau-Douglas graduate. Both fit in to the hard working blue prints set by former coaches Sandi Pahlke and Scott May that helped establish the Falcons’ program from its inception in 2009.
Shryock said the community, “Can expect to see some energetic runners that are happy to be there and are ready to give it a go.”
Mearig said he hopes to instill the passion for running.
“Honestly I just love running,” he said. “I have been around competitive cross-country for a lot of my late childhood and adult life, but even outside of organized events I just to love to run. I love to run in Juneau, I love to run trails, and it is a great healthy lifestyle component that kids can take with them out of high school into the rest of their life. Just to have a love for running, the community that comes with that and the environment that you get to participate in. I like to run and I want to encourage kids in that. We are both long time teachers so we do a lot with kids in a different kind of environment and this is an alternative way to interact with kids that is different from a classroom and it has some advantages there in terms of relationship building.”
While the team did get to run last season the COVID-19 pandemic forced schools to place restrictions on athletes that cut into the lifestyle of cross-country running such as friendly gatherings and group runs.
“I think a lot of that actually makes our job easier,” Mearig said. “We have a lot of team members who haven’t had an opportunity to really perform their best in a COVID shortened season and an environment where they weren’t getting as much exposure to running and team participation in the last year and have already heard from students ‘I am already feeling so much better this year than last year, this is great.’ I am hardly doing anything but giving them the space to grow up a little bit as a runner. I think a lot of them are just excited for into be back.”
Said Shryock, “There has been a lot of really good energy at practice and it is exciting for me as a teacher too, I know what last year was like. It is just fun to see student athletes and excited to see students again in general. They are bringing some energy with them which is nice.”
Helping cultivate that energy are the senior team captains Dihle, Johns and Grace Sikes.
“This year I am rally hoping for us to just have a fun time and enjoy the season together as a team. Last year it was just not the same, this year I am hoping we can race more, maybe travel that would be really great.
I hope we just leave a team passionate about running, that just likes having fun, a community together, just like Thunder Mountain, not super serious but like for fun.”
The first fun competition is the Sayeik (Douglas) Meet, Saturday on the Treadwell Mine Historic Trail at Sandy Beach.
The meet that could very well have more runners than the Region V and state championship races, largely due to the love for running of the TMHS, Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé and community runners attending in mass, as well as high school teams from Haines, Petersburg and Skagway.
The community and unattached runners race is at 11:30 a.m., followed by the high school varsity boys race at 12:15 p.m. and the varsity girls race at 1 p.m.
Senior Girls - Abigail Booton, Maryellen Bryson, Kiah Dihle, Hailey Dompeling, Ruchi Haight, Gwendolyn Lokwood, Naomi Olver, Katie Ortega, Grace Sikes, Jayda Skeek, Jenea Mei Trousil.
Senior Boys - Cade Babcock, Thomas Bowman, Dylan Chilton, Matthew Johns, John Magalhaes, Josh Thurman, Darin Tingey, Alexander Ward.
Junior Girls - Lyric Ashenfelter, Mackenzie Olver, Aliyah Overturf, Madelyne Sassi.
Junior Boys - Ben Erickson, Justus Paden, Michael Wittig.
Sophomore Girls - Serenity Ault, Cedar Croteau, Mackenzie Lam, Shaylen Montgomery, Sophia Owen.
Sophomore Boys - Calvin Knapp, Ethan Reihl, Justin Scussel.
Freshman Girls - Pema Curry, Dorothy Germain, Amy Lockwood.
Freshman Boys - Kajson Cunningham, Matthew Godkin, Carvin Hass, Merrick Hartman, Casey Knapp, Elijah Levy, Bruno Melecha, Kael Nord, Matthias Paden, Quinn Quiroga, Thomas Rice, Benjamin Sikes, Paul Smith, Hayden Soboleff, Ian Ward, Owen Woodruff.
Aug. 21 - Sayeik (Douglas) Meet.
Aug. 27-28 - TM/JD Two-Day Dual Meet.
Sept. 4 - at Skagway.
Sept. 11 - at Wrangell.
Sept. 18 - at Sitka Invite.
Sept. 25 - Capital City Invite.
Oct. 2 - at Ketchikan, Region V Championships.
Oct. 9 - at Anchorage, State Championships.