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Prep Cross Country: Grace boys, Seward girls defend D2 state crowns; Wrangell boys, Dillingham girls take D3 titles

by | Oct 9, 2023 | Cover Story, Cross Country Running, Running

ASAA Cross Country Running Division II State Champion, Grace Christian Grizzlies. Photo by Arielle Himelbloom/Alaska Sports Report

Coming into the state meet, Grace Christian’s Robbie Annett was the heavy favorite, as the top returner with a nearly unblemished race résumé.

The junior raced strategically, pulling away from the field to claim his first individual title at the ASAA/First National Bank Alaska Cross Country Running Championships, covering the 5-kilometer course in 16 minutes, 39 seconds.

Annett, who won nine races prior to the state championships, perfected his racing strategies throughout the season.

“I’ve always had two or three guys ahead of me that I can try and kind of chase,” said Annett. “But this year’s been totally different trying to figure out how to lead races.”

With each race, Annett got into a groove, learning how to lead, regardless of the field.

Grace Christian’s Robbie Annett leads Kenai Central’s Gregory Fallon. Photo by Peter Pounds.

When the Region III Championships arrived, his competitors had started closing the gap, and on Saturday, the gap grew even closer.

The quartet of Annett, teammate Simon Nelson, Kenai Central’s Gregory Fallon and Sitka’s Connor Hitchcock broke away from the field to set the pace.

“My strategy was trying to stick with the pack for the first two laps and then just slowly wrap it up through the third lap,” said Annett.

The race went nearly to plan, with Fallon adjacent to Annett, mirroring his tactics from the Region III Championships.

The duo rounded the hills and winding curves of the Mike Janecek Trails where Annett built a small lead over Fallon and continued to push up the final hill into the home stretch.

Fallon made one last attempt to catch Annett, but by that time, he had run out of real estate.

Start of the Div II Alaska Cross Country Running Cross Country State Championship boys race. Photo by Peter Pounds.

Behind Annett, Grace Christian put three runners in the top four, joined by junior Colton Merriner in third and Simon Nelson in fourth. Sophomore Aodhan Nakada (20th) and freshman Owen Crotts (24th) rounded out the team scoring, helping the Grizzlies capture their fifth-consecutive ASAA team title with 47 points.

“Those guys are always pushing me in practice every day, taking turns leading workouts,” said Annett. “It’s been super fun and the coaching has been really great this season, just like always.”

Sitka (67) placed runner-up, while Homer (73) took third, and Mountain City Christian (formerly ACS) collected the team academic award.

Annett joins David Sliwinski (’21-’22), Daniel Serventi (’13), John Klein (’10) and Jacob Kirk (’08) as individual state champions for Grace. The boys team title is the 15th in school history (’97, ’06-’14, ’18-’19, ’21-’23).

D2 Boys Top-10 Finishers

1. Robbie Annett, Grace Christian, 16:39

2. Gregory Fallon, Kenai Central, 16:42

3. Colton Merriner, Grace Christian, 16:49

4. Simon Nelson, Grace Christian, 16:54

5. Connor Hitchcock, Sitka, 17:00

6. Trey Demmert, Sitka, 17:41

7. Rafe Caruthers, Valdez, 17:21

8. Orson Hoogendorn, Nome-Beltz, 17:29

9. Ned Peters, Bethel, 17:31

10. Preston Kopp, Mountain City Christian, 17:33

Sitka’s Clare Mullin and Marina Dill used an early lead to gap the field in the Division II girls race, with Mullin collecting her first state cross country title in 19:50.

Clare Mullin leads Sitka teammate Marina Dill. Photo by Peter Pounds.

Mullin and Dill ran side-by-side for most of the race, confident in their abilities to navigate the undulating, fog-shrouded course.

“We were just trying to run our own race and go out at our pace,” said Mullin. “We try to not worry about who’s behind us.”

At the fourth kilometer, Mullin made her move, pulling away as she emerged onto the Palmer track, lengthening her stride with every step toward the finish line.

“I was just trying to hang on until then and just give it everything I had,” said Mullin.

ASAA Cross Country Running Division II State Champion, Seward Seahawks. Photo by Arielle Himelbloom/Alaska Sports Report

After placing runner-up to teammate Anna Prussian last fall, Mullin was eager for another shot. She kept most of her training regimen the same, focusing on hydration and nutrition, and bumping up her mileage slightly.

“I did do a little more over the summer as far as longer runs,” said Mullin. “But this year I’ve definitely been better about taking care of all the little things…that really gave me an extra edge.”

Mullin’s title is the third by a Sitka girl, joining Anna Prussian (’22) and Phaydra Newport (’88).

One year after breaking a 15-year drought, the Seward Seahawks soared to their second-consecutive team title and eighth in school history (’91, ’93, ’96, ’98, ’06, ’07, ’22-’23).

The Seahawks were led by senior Hailey Ingalls’ third-place finish, followed by freshman Selah Brueckner (6th), sophomore Juniper Ingalls (8th), junior Katie Vanbuskirk (10th) and sophomore Maddie Haas (12th). Freshman Indigo Leslie (13th) and senior Stella Dow (33rd) rounded out the squad, while Grace Christian collected the team academic award.

D2 Girls Top-10 Finishers

1. Clare Mullin, Sitka, 19:50

2. Marina Dill, Sitka, 20:13

3. Hailey Ingalls, Seward, 20:57

4. Sydney Mondeel, Grace Christian, 21:07

5. Tagan Rinner, Grace Christian, 21:15

6. Selah Brueckner, Seward, 21:30

7. Lauren Kingstrom, Nome-Beltz, 21:32

8. Juniper Ingalls, Seward, 21:42

9. AwaLuk Nichols, Nome-Beltz, 21:50

10. Katie Van Buskirk, Seward, 21:52

Wrangell’s Boomchain Loucks has been on a tear since his first state meet appearance, culminating in a dominant win in the Division III boys race, clocking 17:28.

After placing seventh as a freshman and being a part of the championship-winning team, a fire was ignited, motivating Loucks to train better than ever in hopes of improving his state placement.

“In the summer, I don’t think I took one day off,” said Loucks. “I went every day, I went down south to go to a [running] camp, I put the miles in, ate healthy, lifted weights — I did everything.

The hard work paid off for Loucks who placed no lower than seventh in meets, many of which contained competition from all three divisions.

Wrangell’s Boomchain Loucks with a strong lead during the second lap of the DIII State Championship race. Photo by Arielle Himelbloom/Alaska Sports Report

After taking out the race, Loucks built a lead that no one could contest.

“I just tried to go out to the lead and if there were people going to compete with me, I was going to compete with them,” said Loucks.

As he crossed the finish line, Loucks pointed to the lettering on his jersey, proud to bring home just the second individual state cross country title for Wrangell.

“It means everything,” said Loucks. “We love the sport, we love it.”

After the finish, Loucks embraced and congratulated teammates and competitors alike, exemplifying true sportsmanship.

While last year’s championship team graduated four seniors, the Wolves replenished their crew enough to defend their team title, amassing just 28 points. Cordova (72) placed runner-up, while Petersburg (75) took third. Glennallen collected the academic award.

Wrangell senior Keegan Hansen placed runner-up, while junior Daniel Harrison — the 2022 state champion — took fifth. Sophomore Ian Nelson (12th) and freshman Jackson Carney (19th) completed the scoring, while sophomore Jackson Powers (22nd) and freshman Everett Meisner (50th) rounded out the squad.

ASAA Cross Country Running Division III State Champion, Wrangell Wolves. Photo by Arielle Himelbloom/Alaska Sports Report

D3 Boys Top-10 Finishers

1. Boomchain Loucks, Wrangell, 17:28

2. Keegan Hansen, Wrangell, 18:12

3. Floyd Widsoe, Cordova, 18:13

4. Aulis Nelson, Craig, 18:16

5. Daniel Harrison, Wrangell, 18:23

6. Alex Holmgrain, Petersburg, 18:25

7. Keilan Wassillie, Bristol Bay, 18:35

8. Tegan Hesse, Cordova, 18:49

9. Xzavier Munoz-Torres, Kake, 18:55

10. Latrell Lake, Hooper Bay, 19:07

The Division III girls race exceeded excitement, as Unalakleet’s Ourea Busk secured her school’s first-ever cross country state title, clocking 19:38.

Busk rose to fame in the spring after claiming Unalakleet’s inaugural track and field title, winning the 400-meter dash.

Four months later, the sophomore added another title to her collection, improving upon her third-place showing from last fall.

After the starting gun sounded, Busk filed behind Eddington, keeping the defending state champion within her sights.

Unalakleet’s Ourea Busk on her own after overtaking the lead. Photo by Jaycie Calvert.

While Eddington led the first lap, Busk overtook the lead early on in the second lap and continued to push the pace. As the lead grew, Busk never hesitated, cruising to her first state title and making history in the process.

Although humble about her accomplishments, Busk was confident in her abilities.

“I thought I could make at least top three,” said Busk.

Busk’s time is a 63-second personal best and marks her first time finishing under the 20-minute barrier.

Also making history was the Dillingham Wolverines, who celebrated their first cross country title in school history after collecting the team academic award.

The endeavor was a bit of a surprise, after previously placing fifth in 2022 and sixth in 2009.

Sophomore Kalin Clouse led the Wolverines with a 19th-place finish as the second-highest athlete among team scorers. Also scoring for Dillingham was Annie Evans, Elayne Woods, Ann Tucker and Gisa Reigh, while Marion Coupchiak and Alex Buholm rounded out the squad. The Wolverines collected 46 points, outpacing Kake (56) and Craig (74).

D3 Girls Top-10 Finishers

1. Ourea Busk, Unalakleet, 19:38

2. Taylor Eddington, Tri-Valley, 19:57

3. Ari’el Godinez-Long, Haines, 20:40

4. Pagan Lester, Newhalen, 21:57

5. Adelyn McCorison, Ninilchik, 22:21

6. Maria Toth, Petersburg, 22:33

7. Kinley Lister, Petersburg, 23:06

8. Alana Harrison, Wrangell, 23:18

9. Kayla Abbott, Glennallen, 23:22

10. Violet Jack, Unalakleet, 23:37

See complete results for all races here.

ASAA Cross Country Running Division III State Champion, Dillingham Wolverines. Photo by Arielle Himelbloom/Alaska Sports Report

Story made possible by:

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Advanced Diagnostics, INC | Alaska Airlines | Alaska Oil and Gas Association | Alliance for Support of American Legion Baseball in Alaska | Joe Alston | Arctic Slope Regional Corporation | Aspen Endodontics | Glen Bailey | Kathie Bethard | Black-Smith, Bethard & Carlson, LLC. | BOSCO's | Don Clary & Judy Besh | Zareena and Allen Clendaniel | Continental Auto Group | Joey Caterinichio & Ja Dorris | The Conway Family | Donley Family | Jim & Michelle Hajdukovich | Foley & Pearson | JL Properties | Mark and Jamie Johnson | Kristopher Knauss | Loren Kroon | Dr. Justin Libby, DDS | Jason & Shannon Metrokin | Amy and Jason Miller | Multisport Training of Alaska/Lisa Keller | Rick Mystrom | Kathleen Navarre | Seth Wickersham & Alison Overholt | Dave and DeAnne Rand | R&M Consultants, Inc. | RE/MAX Dynamic Properties Kevin Taylor | Replacement Glass | Residential Mortgage | RSA Engineering- Sarah & A.J. Schirack | Tony and Carla Slaton Barker | Sportclips Haircuts | Alice & Gunnar Knapp | Peter Pounds | Dan Rufner | Harlow Robinson | Pete Robinson | Moria Smith | Taylored Restoration | In memory of Drs. John & Elizabeth Tower | Team Heat | Todd Whited | UAA Seawolves | Don Winchester

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