Photo courtesy of Gretchen Wehmhoff- The Skagway News
Junior Camelia Bell competes in the cross country meet in Skagway on Sept. 2. Bell finished in 26th as the first Glacier Bears finisher.

Defending state champion Glacier Bears cross country runners kicked off their official season in Skagway on Sept. 2 with performances that coach Katie Russell said “exceeded their expectations on how well they were going to do.”

The meet involved an early morning ferry ride on the Fjordland. Immediately on arrival, the ten runners — seven boys and three girls — walked the course to get a sense of the challenges. It turned out the course included a half-mile stretch of strong winds followed by a staggeringly steep uphill, which Russell said forced nearly all of the Glacier Bears to walk. But she said she was warmed to hear that one of the boys was cheering on competitors as he struggled up the hill.

“I was proud he did that,” said Russell.

Four boys had competed in Juneau the week before, but most of the competitors still didn’t have strong expectations for how they would do. Russell told runners not to focus on times for the opening meet.

“I told them, I don’t care what your time is this weekend, it’s more about the effort you put in and how you place in regards to the whole groups,” she said. “They didn’t come in last — they didn’t do as awful as they thought they might have. That’s your early season jitters that you’re getting out.”

After the meet, runners had a quick lunch and then caught the afternoon ferry back to Haines.

Russell said runners will continue to build on their training with a weekly hill workout and speed work with rest days in between. The next competition is Sept. 16 in Sitka before regionals in Juneau. Russell said in non-competition weeks, runners will also hold a time trial.

Boys results 3rd place out of four teams: Andrew Hansen 16th – 21:06; JC Davis 18th – 22:38; Phoenix Swaner 30th – 23:39; TJ Smith 40th – 24:49; Alex Weerasinghe 44th – 25:05; Will Davis 52nd – 26:16; McConnell Robinson 55th – 27:02.

Girls, no team score: Camelia Bell 26th – 30:32; Willa Stuart 27th – 30:36; Mary Bell 39th – 32:50