There’s no doubt about it. This year’s cross country season will be one of the weirdest in recent memory — if ever.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has put high school sports across the country in a “make it up as you go” scenario.
What is known today can be different tomorrow.
But that said, the activity of cross country won’t change.
The individualistic characteristic of the sport — putting on a pair of running shoes, and just going as far and as fast as it’s wanted — fits in today’s world.
So on a classic Ketchikan Saturday morning — grey haze and rainy — the Ketchikan High School cross country team members did what they do best.
They put on their racing shoes, and hit the ground running.
It was the unofficial start to the unconventional season.
Competing against five other high schools, Ketchikan raced virtually — a theme that will continue for the foreseeable future — in Southeast Alaska’s first ever virtual high school race — the Sayeik Invite.
Juneau-Douglas High School technically hosted the event. Thunder Mountain, Sitka, Petersburg and Metlakatla high schools also participated.
“We’re just doing the best we can,” Ketchikan head coach Katie Sivertsen said. “All of us coaches, we want to keep these kids engaged in sports, and we want them to be healthy through competition. So this is the best that we can think of.”
Juneau-Douglas’ coaches offered the idea, and the schools jumped on board. This past weekend would’ve been a home meet for the capital city.
“They (called and) said that usually they’d be doing a meet this weekend,” Sivertsen said after Saturday’s race. “They asked, ‘Do you want to do a meet (virtually)?’”
Ketchikan ran its version at Ward Lake, while the other schools ran their own home courses. Results had to be sent to Juneau by 2 p.m. Saturday.
“We’re going to publish the kids’ times that they ran as a time trial on their home course,” Sivertsen said. “... (But) we’re going to score the teams.”
To make up for each course’s difference — Juneau has steeper hills; Ward Lake is considered flatter — each team took the individual results from last year’s meet in the capital city, and divided that time by each individual’s result at their home course last season.
That number is averaged out for each school’s boys’ team and girls’ team, and then multiplied by Saturday’s time.
From there, the team scores were figured out.
“That’s how we’re going to keep our teams competitive and engaged,” Sivertsen said. “We’re trying to keep our region connected.”
Juneau-Douglas came up with the math formula, and coincidentally Juneau-Douglas won both the boys’ and girls’ races.
The Crimson Bears also have more practice on their hilly course, providing a better explanation to the lopsided outcomes.
Juneau-Douglas scored 21 points in the boys’ race — and tallied just one more in the girls’ race, at 22.
The Ketchikan Kings placed second in the boys’ race, scoring 104. The girls’ squad finished third, with 108 points. Sitka was sandwiched between the two schools on the girls’ side, at 92.
Ketchikan junior Mickey Lapinski tied his personal record at Ward Lake, finishing in 17:16.59 on Saturday. He did the same last season.
“An athlete like Mickey, dropping 17 (minutes) — awesome,” Sivertsen said. “He’s been getting after it. He worked hard this summer, for sure, and it shows.”
Lapinski has regularly competed in the Ketchikan Running and Walking Club’s virtual events this summer, hitting 17 minutes in several of those as well.
Ketchikan sophomore Anneliese Hiatt also has competed in the Ketchikan running club’s virtual events this summer. And she continued that training into Saturday’s virtual high school meet, topping Kayhi’s girls’ squad with a time of 22:15.62.
Jenna Walker finished shortly behind Hiatt. Walker’s time of 22:55 was a new personal record.
“Jenna’s one of those athletes who really put in the work this summer, so it’s cool to see,” Sivertsen said.
The Ketchikan cross country team tentatively has a couple trips planned for meets this season. But that, of course, is subject to change. That depends on each community's risk level for the coronavirus.
“Juneau, right now, is at that (high) risk level,” Sivertsen said. “So Juneau is not planning to travel, and we’re not, in reality, going to visit them. (But) we do have a couple (other) trips planned.”
Sivertsen also has a couple other ideas for this unusual cross country season, like timing the fastest mile — or uphill mile — in Southeast. The virtual aspect gives this season countless opportunities for outside-the-box-type races.
“If we’re going to have a weird season, I want to do fun stuff with the kids,” she said. “... I want it to be a classic cross country season. But at the same time, I know personally, if I was an athlete, I know I would get real bored running this course every weekend. So how can we mix it up?”
In other words, Sivertsen is trying to think of ways to keep her team on its toes.
It’s a kudos to Kayhi’s first-year head coach — trying to make this year, which is unlike any other year — “fun.”
“It’s not (a) classic cross country (season), so I know not everyone is going to love it,” she said. “But I think we can take this time and do cool stuff.”
While virtual might be the way to go in the foreseeable future, in reality, all the Kings can keep doing is be flexible through the day-in and day-out changes.
Or in other words, just keep putting one foot in front of the other.
“I can’t say it enough, with how strange this season is, and the season’s going to be,” Sivertsen said. “I mean, every kid that came out here today, and put on their uniform and their bib — that’s a huge deal. I’m very proud of them.”
Here are the results for the Sayeik Invite:
Team Scores (Boys)
1. Juneau-Douglas, 21; 2. Ketchikan, 104; 3. Sitka, 105; 4. Petersburg, 116; 5. Thunder Mountain, 148; 6. Metlakatla, 270.
Ketchikan Individual Results (Boys)
1. Mickey Lapinski, 17:16.59 (17:36.43); 2. Aidan Miller, 19:29.29 (19:52.23); 3. Kai Biagi, 20:01 (20:25.01); 4. Owen Woodward, 20:30 (20:54.36); 5. Atreyu Davis, 21:27 (21:52.44); 6. Conner Ray, 22:19.29 (22:45.47); 7. Gabe Tabb, 28:23 (28:57.04).
Team Scores (Girls)
1. Juneau-Douglas, 22; 2. Sitka, 92; 3. Ketchikan, 108; 4. Thunder Mountain, 110.
Ketchikan Individual Results (Girls)
1. Anneliese Hiatt, 22:15.62 (22:55.03); 2. Jenna Walker, 22:55 (23:36.15); 3. Ruby McCue, 23:08 (23:49.48); 4. Paige Boehlert, 23:08.32 (23:49.48); 5. Malia King, 24:40 (25:24.00); 6. Ada Odden, 24:48 (25:32.38); 7. Maggie Boehlert, 24:48.1 (25:32.38); 8. Hannah Moody, 28:37 (29:28.31); 9. Ellie Pickerell, 30:12 (31:06.22).
*Parentheses mark adjusted individual times for Juneau’s course.
**Names and times courtesy of Ketchikan High School cross country.