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Story Last modified at 12:56 p.m. on Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Phenomenal freshmen
Youngsters get Eagle River off to fast XC start

BY MATT TUNSETH
Alaska Star

photo:Sports

Eagle River's Alec Smith (607) leads teammate Ben Hall (605) onto the course during class races held Saturday, Aug. 13 at Chugiak High. Smith, Hall and fellow Wolves frosh William Hail took the top three spots in the freshman boys race.
STAR PHOTO by matt tunseth

Even if it didn't really happen, it was still pretty impressive to watch.

A trio of freshmen boys from Eagle River swept the top three spots – unofficially – in season-opening class races on Saturday, Aug. 13 at Chugiak High School.

"We have a pretty strong freshman class this year," said William Hail, who was third across the line behind teammates Alec Smith and Ben Hall in the freshman boys race.

Smith, last year's Anchorage School District middle school champion, was the first runner across the line, followed shortly afterward by Hall, then Hail. Official times and places were not released because of the unofficial nature of the race, which mixed eligible (completed at least 10 practices) and non-eligible runners in heats separated by class and gender.

But anyone watching the event got a pretty good idea that this year's Wolves team is a much deeper squad than last year.

"They looked like they have a really strong team," said Chugiak head coach Tina McPhetres.

The addition of Smith, Hall and Hail – three of the city's best distance runners last year at Gruening Middle School – along with talented freshman girls Nikole Boggs, Sierra Richardson and Shayna Wolery, has given coach Jacob Bera's team a whole new look.

"I was really impressed today with how they all ran," Bera said.

Boggs was third in the freshman girls race, Richardson was sixth and Wolery finished 10th.

But it was Eagle River's freshmen boys who stole the show, racing out to the front of the pack and dusting their next-closest rivals.

Smith said the three had been looking forward to their first taste of competition all summer.

"We're all pretty competitive," Smith said.

Smith said he pulled away from his teammates about midway through the course as Hall struggled with a gimpy ankle and Hail dealt with hamstring tightness.

Hall said the three are constantly pushing each other in practice. Although they're good friends outside of racing, cross country running is essentially an individual sport when it comes down to it.

"We're friends up until five, four, three, two, one..." Hall said.

Smith, Hall and Hail are just the tip of the iceberg for Bera, who had 10 ninth graders lace up their running shoes for the event — second only to South's 13. Bera said he was impressed with the attitude the large group of boys showed both before and during the race.

"You could kinda tell they wanted to make a statement today," he said.

Also having strong showings for the Eagle River boys were juniors Brandon King and Ben Smith. King was third in the junior boys race (despite showing up 10 seconds late to the starting line), while Ben Smith was eighth. With five strong varsity runners now in the mix (and at least one more coming in talented freshman Keegan Crowe) Bera said his boys team could contend for a spot in the top half of the Cook Inlet Conference this season.

"We've got to keep going. I think the talent is there, we've just gotta work hard as a team," he said.

Chugiak's Tim Sorensen was the top performer for the Mustangs, finishing second in the sophomore boys race, while Sam Hartke was third among junior girls, Sarissa Lammers placed fourth in the sophomore girls race and Chris Kveseth was sixth among junior boys.

McPhetres said she was pleased with how her team ran — from Chugiak's stars to its first-year runners.

"All of the kids did really well," she said.

The season-opening event had a laid-back feel, with runners cheering one another as wave after wave of racers hit the trail. Several top athletes were absent from the race either due to lack of practice time, early-season injuries or illness. That list included Isaac Lammers and David McPhetres, two the Chugiak boys team's strongest runners. Coach McPhetres said both will be in action at this weekend's Bartlett Invitational – which is very much an official race.

"It'll be a whole different ballgame at Bartlett," she said.

While it was younger runners making most of the big strides in the races, one of Eagle River's veterans also turned in one of the day's most impressive results.

Wolves senior Evy Hail raced to a second-place showing in the senior girls race, showing she's a definite candidate to qualify for the state meet this season after finishing eight places shy last season.

"She's a really strong runner, she loves running and I can tell that she really wants to make this a special season," Bera said.

King said he thinks the team's early showing proves that the Wolves are a team to be reckoned with this season.

"It's Eagle River's year," he said.

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727.



This article published in The Alaska Star on Wednesday, August 17, 2011.