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CROSS COUNTRY RUNNING

Prep Cross Country: Colony’s Ainsworth surprises, Grace’s Annett soars at George Plumley Invite; Mustangs, Wolverines continue winning ways

by | Sep 11, 2023 | Cover Story, Cross Country Running, Running

More than 1,000 athletes representing 46 teams lined up at Palmer High’s Mike Janecek Running Trails on Saturday to compete at the George Plumley Invite, marking one of the largest meets outside the state championships. The race served as a state preview, which will be held on the same course on Oct. 7.

Colony’s Morgan Ainsworth rose to the top in the 5-K race with a come-from-behind victory in 19 minutes, 41 seconds, while Grace Christian’s Robbie Annett narrowly pulled away from the competition, finishing in 16:18.

Start of varsity girls race at the George Plumley Invite. Photo courtesy Peter Pounds.

When the gun went off, Ainsworth stayed in the front pack, avoided traffic and overtook the lead at just the right time.

To many, the sophomore’s win came as a surprise, but for Ainsworth, she’s been a consistent competitor since the start of her prep career.

Last fall, she never placed lower than eighth during the regular season, including a sixth-place finish at George Plumley, before placing 13th at the state meet. Ainsworth continued the momentum throughout the track season, peaking at the state meet and coming home with two fourth-place medals.

This season she already owns a pair of top-three finishes, placing third at both the Ted McKenney Invite and Colony Invite.

When the competition mounted and favorites sped to the early lead, Ainsworth was right behind them, biding her time until it was time to strike, running to her first individual victory. For an athlete with such patience and consistency, one thing is for certain; once in the lead, Ainsworth does not look back.

Colony’s Morgan Ainsworth (center) in early lead pack. Photo courtesy Peter Pounds.

Soldotna’s Tania Boonstra placed runner-up (19:44.27), followed closely by Chugiak’s Hannah Shaha (19:44.90), Service’s Miyana Kam-Magruder (19:48.65), and Juneau-Douglas’ Ida Meyer (19:49.63).

By placing all five scorers in the top 12, the Chugiak Mustangs ran away with their 17th consecutive team win against in-state competition, amassing 42 points — 57 ahead of South Anchorage. The Mustangs’ impressive win streak dates back to 2021, which includes two state titles.

For Grace Christian’s Robbie Annett, he went to the lead immediately, conducting the race from the front.

Coming into the competition, the junior was dubbed the heavy favorite, after being the state’s top returner and stringing together five consecutive wins this season, including the Mountain City Class Challenge (3.2K) one day prior.

Start of varsity boys race at the George Plumley Invite. Photo courtesy Peter Pounds.

And while Annett — who is currently undefeated this season — never relinquished the lead, Palmer’s Fischer Adams kept the Grizzly within eyeshot throughout the three-loop course, finishing just four seconds back in 16:22.51 for his third top-three placement this season.

Grace Christian teammate Simon Nelson finished third (16:54.90), while South Anchorage’s Blaise Boyer (17:02.28) and Kenai Central’s Gregory Fallon (17:05.54) rounded out the top five.

And while the top 12 positions were comprised of runners from ten different teams, the placement of the fourth and fifth runners was crucial. By placing five runners in the top 32, the South Anchorage Wolverines collected their third consecutive team win with 87 points — 43 ahead of West Anchorage.

Full results here.

Grace Christian’s Robbie Annett ahead of lead biker. Photo courtesy Peter Pounds.

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