Heading into the regional cross-country championship meet at Sitka’s Totem Park Saturday, Haines teams appear to have good odds at winning a berth at the state championship, something they haven’t done since 2008.

But coach Liam Cassidy and assistant Heather Lende aren’t taking any chances.

“The thing about the regional meet is anything can happen,” Lende said this week. “It goes to the team that wants it the most. The question becomes: How badly do they want it?”

Unlike in other sports like basketball, going to the state cross-country championship has nothing to do with a team’s record; it’s based solely on performance at the regional championship. “In cross-country, the regionals are everything. All the other meets are just practice,” Lende said.

A rule change this year making the region’s first three small-school teams eligible for state should help the Glacier Bears’ chances. The boys’ team has been running just behind division-leading Sitka and the girls’ squad finished third among small schools at last weekend’s meet in Juneau, behind Sitka and Craig.

But some teams have a way of coalescing at regionals. Skagway’s and Mount Edgecumbe’s girls and boys from Edgecumbe, Wrangell and Petersburg could become threats in Sitka, Lende said.

She and Cassidy are hoping to instill more competitiveness in the girls’ squad to secure a state spot. “They need to want to run fast. They’re in great shape, but they’re going to have to run outside their comfort zone.”

The girls’ squad also is short-handed. With seven girls eligible to travel to regionals, only six girls are fit enough to go to Sitka.

For the boys’ squad, eyes are on sophomore Chris Olsen. If Olsen, the team’s fifth runner, can run closer to four Haines runners in front of him, he’ll close a big gap in team scoring. By picking up about 10 places, the boys could challenge Sitka, a squad that’s led the division all season. “We’re not that far behind Sitka,” said coach Cassidy. “There’s no ruling out winning the region.”

The boys’ team also will be looking at senior Hunter Badgley and sophomore Brandon Bachman to displace some of Sitka’s top five runners. Cross country is scored by tallying the places of a team’s first five finishers.

Coach Cassidy said the regional meet also is important for extending the brief running season. “It’s hard to have a program without another week for people to train and take the sport seriously.”

Among small schools competing at last weekend’s Juneau Invitational, Haines boys placed second behind Sitka, and third overall, topping Thunder Mountain, Wrangell, Mount Edgecumbe, Craig, Ketchikan and Petersburg. Juneau boys won the meet.

In Juneau, the Haines girls finished third among small schools behind Sitka and Craig, ahead of Mount Edgecumbe, Thunder Mountain, Wrangell, Petersburg, and Skagway.

Haines boys finishers at the meet included: senior Blake Hamilton (11th, 18:17), junior Quinn Asquith-Heinz (12th, 18:18), sophomores Corey Piper (19th, 18:54) and Patrick Henderson (21st, 19:10), and Olsen (41st, 20:04). Badgley was 61st in 21:42 and Bachman was 66th in 22:50.

The Haines girls were led by senior Jolene Lemieux (9th, 22:33), followed by junior Maggie Daly (28th, 24:31), freshman Serena Badgley (32nd, 24:40), sophomore Jess Giddings (33rd, 24:41), junior Elena Horner (48th, 26:41) and sophomore Tia Heywood (49th, 26:43).