Kayhi XC

The Ketchikan High School girls cross country team starts their virtual cross country meet on Sept. 12 at Ward Lake. Kayhi’s cross country team will run their Region V meet Saturday morning at Ward Lake, ending a season of virtual races. Staff photo by Dustin Safranek

Saturday won’t be what it was supposed to be.

It was supposed to be Ketchikan High School’s turn to host the Region V cross country meet.

There were supposed to be high schools from throughout Southeast — including Juneau-Douglas, Thunder Mountain, Sitka, Mt. Edgecumbe, Wrangell, Metlakatla, Thorne Bay, and many others — in town.

It was supposed to bring high hopes for a chance at the state meet — which still is scheduled to be run in Anchorage later this month.

But instead, Saturday won’t be any of those.

It will just be Kayhi — running its own course at Ward Lake, all by itself — like it has so many times this season.

The novel coronavirus has had an effect on athletics across the board. Virtual has been the way to compete, to keep both the kids and each community safe.

Saturday will be one more reminder.

“I think, honestly, it’s not going to be as competitive as it would be if those (other) teams were able to come,” Ketchikan head coach Katie Sivertsen said.

But what Saturday’s Region V virtual race does bring is a chance to celebrate.

Sure, Ketchikan’s team will be all by itself. But in a year like no other, the Kings and Lady Kings on the squad finished the season.

And on Saturday, they’ll finish their last race.

“It’s really exciting to be running at home, and be able to celebrate all the hardwork these kids have put in to such a wonky, strange season,” Sivertsen said. “It’s really nice to be able to put that together at home, and have our own little celebration of ourselves.”

Ketchikan’s boys will kick off the regional race at 10 a.m. Girls will follow at 10:30 a.m.

“It gives us an opportunity to ... be proud of their consistency, their determination and their effort that they’ve put in under really challenging and unmotivating circumstances,” the first-year head coach continued.

Ketchikan has kept the risk level for the novel virus low, but both Juneau and Sitka haven’t been able to maintain a low risk level, causing Saturday’s race to be virtual.

Both Sitka and Mt. Edgecumbe — the only Region V 3A schools — were planning on traveling to the First City this weekend, before their case level jumped this past week.

Juneau has been in the high risk level since the school year started.

“(Juneau-Douglas and Thunder Mountain) have done a ton of work over the last three weeks to design a course that’s similar to ours — terrain wise, not turn wise,” Sivertsen said. “But with a big, gradual hill at the beginning to mimic what we do on Frog Pond. So they are not running on their home course. They’re running that.”

Those times will be submitted to Ketchikan to give finalized results for the Region V 4A meet.

“This pandemic — and this season — has really shown which kids have intrinsic motivation, and which ones don’t,” Sivertsen said. “It’s really made that clear. ... I feel like that does really say something about them. That nobody has said, ‘Well, there’s no point. We’re not going to state. We’re not racing against J.D. or Thunder Mountain. We’re not even racing against Sitka and (Mt.) Edgecumbe, so forget it.’ (And) that’s awesome.”

Lapinski’s strong finish in Sitka

Before the case level for the novel virus jumped in Sitka, Ketchikan’s squad was able to travel there, as both cities were considered “low risk” at that time.

Ketchikan runner Mickey Lapinski might have finished the Sitka Invite in first place, with a final time of 17:21. But he certainly had his work cut out for him.  

After jumping out to a quick lead during the race on Sept. 26, things took a wrong turn.

Or in other words, Lapinski was told to take a wrong turn.

“We start (Sitka’s) course — it’s comparable to (our course at Ward Lake),” Lapinski said. “We start on the road. We get on a trail, except it’s a lot flatter. You get on (the trail), and it’s about 100 yards of straight, gravel trail. Then there’s a little turn, and after that turn, there’s a fork. And you can either go right or left.”

And Lapinski was told to take the fork.

A Sitka course director pointed Kayhi’s lead runner right on the trail, when in fact the course goes left.

“I don’t know the course by heart,” Lapinski said. “Left is the right way, and I was kind of thinking that’s where we go. Right (on the trail) hugs the water, like for a more scenic route if you’re walking that trail.

“There’s a guy in a Sitka hat, a course director, and he’s in the middle of the left area — where we’re supposed to be going — and this is right around the (little turn), so I see him for two seconds,” Lapinski continued. “And he (points to the right), ‘This way. This way.’ I listen to the guy. He’s wearing a Sitka hat, and I don’t think too much of it.”

Lapinski continued down that part of the trail for about 10 seconds before he heard voices calling him back.

It was two Sitka High School runners behind him.

 “I hear that, and I was so mad at that point,” Lapinski said. “In my mind, I was getting to that point on the trail where I was like, ‘This doesn’t look familiar.’ ... I sprint back, and at that point I’m behind all the Ketchikan runners, and I believe all the Sitka runners. I don’t think I was in dead last. I think there might’ve been a few (Mt.) Edgecumbe runners still behind me. But I was behind my whole team.”

The confusion was that the course director — a history teacher in Sitka — was told to direct runners toward “the battleground” when, in fact, the battle took place in the opposite direction.

A history teach would know that.

“After the race, that teacher came up ... and he explained what the issue was, and it was a matter of historical context,” Sivertsen said. “... It was an honest mistake, and the fellow came up and he apologized to Mickey. But he explained why he made that error, and Mickey handled it with so much respect.”

The course director even sent the top two Sitka runners (Silas Demmert and Kobi Weilnd) in the same direction as Lapinski, before the course director was corrected by Demmert and Weilnd.

No other runners were sent the wrong way.

“I mean, a lot of things could happen,” Lapinski said. “A bear could be there, so they have to reroute the course. Maybe I just forgot the course — because there are a lot of different turn-offs that you have to know there.”

Lapinski raced passed everyone after that, finishing first. His time of 17:21 was 20 seconds off his personal record of 17:01. Twenty seconds is about the same amount of time he went the wrong way.

“It would’ve been close (to a PR) if I didn’t turn up that way,” Lapinski said. “But it makes for a better story.”