Chugiak's Chris Kveseth, right, and David McPhetres are among a group of four Chugiak boys varsity team runners who are back from last season's runner-up finish at the Cook Inlet Conference meet.
STAR PHOTOs by matt tunseth
Chugiak's Sam Hartke was the area's top cross country runner a season ago, placing second at the CIC meet and eighth at the Class 4A state meet.
Chugiak senior Taylor Andrews uses the soggy conditions to take a quick water break during Mustangs practice earlier this week.
There's plenty of thoroughbreds in Chugiak's cross-country running stable this season, where five runners four boys and a girl are likely to run at the front of the Cook Inlet Conference pack all season.
Junior Samantha Hartke was the area's top overall cross-country runner last season, placing second at the CIC championships and eighth at state. After one week of practice, coach Tina McPhetres saw no reason why Hartke shouldn't continue to be among the state's elite distance runners in 2011.
"She should do really good this year," McPhetres said Monday, Aug. 8.
Hartke is the leader of a young Chugiak team that finished sixth in the CIC last year. Sophomore Naella Lundell is also back after finishing 36th at the CIC meet last season as a freshman, and McPhetres said she has several runners who have taken big strides over the summer.
"I think it's going to be a fun team," she said.
Having fun is a big part of McPhetres' program. She said she strives to emphasize sportsmanship and team bonding just as much as clocking fast times.
"I'm big on the whole team experience," she said. "If kids can't handle it and they're dragging others down, they probably shouldn't be here."
Chugiak's boys team has higher expectations that just having fun. Four of last season's top six performers are back from a team that placed second in the CIC, including senior Isaac Lammers, junior Chris Kveseth and sophomores Tim Sorensen and David McPhetres.
"I'm not quite sure what everybody else is doing, but we'll be a threat I hope," Kveseth said.
Though the team's top runners all came in looking strong (Kveseth ran the 24-mile Crow Pass Crossing a couple weeks ago) he thinks they'll work even harder now that the season has begun.
"Everyone can always use a little more work," Kveseth said.
Lammers was the team's top performer last season, placing 14th in the CIC and 32nd at state. But there's no guarantee the senior will hold his spot at the front of the pack. Coach McPhetres said Kveseth (17th CIC, 51st state), Sorensen (18th CIC, 59th state) and her son, David (22nd CIC, 47th state), all trained extremely hard over the summer.
"I think the boys look really strong," she said.
McPhetres said all of her top four runners and many others on the team participate in multiple sports at Chugiak, giving them an advantage when it comes to year-round training.
"A lot of my kids cross-train," she said.
Having a large contingent of athletes who enjoy sports year-round, McPhetres said, means that the team almost coaches itself.
"It is a really good group of kids," she said. "Even my slowest runners are putting everything out there."
Which means that, win or lose this season, she thinks Chugiak will find success.
"It's not necessarily about being first. If you can come away from it being a better athlete, a better person and a better student, holy smokes, that's what it's all about," she said.
Chugiak will host the season's opening meet, which will follow a boys and girls class race format, on Saturday, Aug. 13 beginning at 10 a.m.
"It's nice because they get to go up against the people in their same grade," she said.
Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or firstname.lastname@example.org
This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, August 10, 2011.