Senior Casey Bradford and sophomore Tulsi Zahnow led Haines boys’ and girls’ squads, respectively, at the biennial Haines Invitational cross-country meet Saturday.

They clocked times of 19:34 and 24:56 on the course that circumscribed the state fairgrounds on asphalt and gravel.

“It felt good,” said Bradford, who led the boys for the first time in his four years on the squad.

Bradford passed up classmate Trevor Cox, who cramped up midway in the race but has been running ahead of Bradford at practice.

“Casey and Trevor have been the leaders of the boys’ team, and they’re a strong duo,” said coach Tara Bicknell. “They’ve been pushing each other.”

Juneau-Douglas won the boys’ race, followed by Thunder Mountain, Mount Edgecumbe, Haines, Skagway and Hoonah.

Haines boys who factored into team scoring were Bradford, 20th; Cox, 24th in 19:54; junior Mori Hays, 30th in 20:33; junior Jacob Stigen, 34th in 20:44; and senior Zane Durr, 39th in 21:25.

Stigen is a team newcomer. “He tries so hard and he’s made major improvements since the beginning of the season,” Bicknell said.

Bradford and Cox jumped out with race leaders then “backed off a little bit,” Bradford said. Both runners said they were impressed with the speed of the meet’s front-runners.

“We have some tough competition this year,” Bradford said.

His goal is to run a standard, 3.1-mile course in less than 19 minutes this year, he said.

Cox, a transfer student who ran distance events on the Haines track team last year, said he’s hoping to clock a “low 18” and qualify for the state championship. His career best time is 18:30.

Cox, who ran cross country three seasons as a Skagway Panther, said it was “a little weird” to compete against his former teammates. Panther Danny Brady finished in front of him.

Girls’ squad leader Zahnow said the long hill from East Fair Drive up to Major Road made the home course more challenging than others the team runs on. “I mainly went out fast and tried to keep a steady pace. I caught a few people.”

Zahnow trained this summer by running 3-4 miles a day on Chilkat Lake Road. She said she’s aiming to run under 23 minutes this year and qualify for state by next year.

Sophomore Brittney Bradford, who finished third among the Glacier Bear girls, said good weather and home-crowd support helped drive the girls’ team. “We all did pretty good. We all stuck together.”

The a big turnout for the sport this year is helping make races and workouts fun, Bradford said.

Haines trailed Juneau-Douglas, Thunder Mountain, and Mount Edgecumbe in the team scoring. Hoonah and Skagway did not field complete teams.

Zahnow placed 19th, senior Destinee Cowart, 39th in 29:11; Bradford, 40th in 29:22; sophomore Makayla Crager, 41st in 29:31; and junior Madeline Andriesen, 48th in 36:39.

The Glacier Bears next head to Wrangell for a meet this weekend, where they’ll continue to work on strategies like “getting a good spot at the start before the bottleneck,” Bicknell said.

“You wonder how much they’re taking in, but then you watch them race and they’re actually doing all the different things we’ve been working on,” she said.