The Haines High School cross-country team is shaping up to be a strong one as it heads into the season, coach Chandler Kemp said. The team hosts its only home meet of the season on Saturday.

At its first meet in Juneau last weekend the boys team finished third overall and second in the division, with the girls’ team in fifth overall and second in the division.

“It was exciting,” Kemp said. “Several kids ran faster than I thought they would.”

Kemp said the team of 20 is young, with only three seniors leading the pack.

“I think it’s a neat dynamic because we have fast underclassmen who are running really well but still learning from the upperclassmen,” Kemp said.

Kemp said he was impressed by the runners’ abilities to stay near each other during the races, motivating each other to succeed. The boys’ fourth-through-seventh-place finishers crossed the finish line within 10 seconds of each other, as did the first four girls, with less than 30 seconds between each.

The top three teams after the regional meet on Saturday, Sept. 23 will qualify for the state meet the following weekend, so Kemp is hoping to maintain momentum through the month.

One standout boys’ runner is sophomore Siyel Galindo-George, who finished ninth overall and fifth in the division. Kemp said he came in a full minute ahead of his Haines peers.

“I’m excited to see what he can do in the next meets,” Kemp said.

Kemp said picking frontrunners on the girls’ team isn’t as obvious. In her first high school race, Atlin Zahnow was a first-place finisher. Kemp said rookie Hannah Boron surprised him with a personal record several minutes faster than her previous 5K times.

Kemp said he expects Marirose Evenden, who qualified for the state meet last year, to continue on the same trajectory. “I hope all of them will progress together,” he said of the girls.

In his first year as head coach, Kemp said he is having fun and looks forward to practice. Alixanne Goodman is assistant coach, and other alumni, teachers and community members often practice with the team. Kemp and Goodman are both Haines High alumni.

“It’s beneficial to have community members run with us because it shows this isn’t just a constructed activity, it’s something to continue later in life,” Kemp said.

The cross-country team has its only home meet Saturday starting at 1 p.m. Kemp said he wants to encourage the community to come out and support the team, as well as run the community 5K race at 2:30 p.m. after the boys’ and girls’ high school races. The course will start, end and loop through the fairgrounds parking lot in a four-leaf clover shape. The Haines School pep band will play for the event.

The race is $5 to register for community members over 16 years old, and a Glacier Bears T-shirt will be available for $10. The school also is looking for volunteers to man the course. Call Tiana Taylor at the main school office at 766-6700 to sign up.