The West Valley High School cross-country team stole its own show on Saturday at the 11th annual West Valley Invitational on the West Ridge trails at University of Alaska Fairbanks. The season-opening meet showcased a dominant, but not unusual performance from Wolfpack senior Kendall Kramer, who broke the girls course record by 29 seconds, and a strong all-around showing from the West Valley boys team.
The 3,200-meter hilly course began at the north end of the West Ridge parking lot and ran past the ski hut and down the satellite dish road before taking a right and heading down to the bottom of Potato Field. The course ran back up the hill for about 1,000 meters and runners took a lateral trail on the west side of the ridge to the Calypso Loop before returning back down the satellite dish road to the finish.
Eleven schools participated.
“I made this race a shorter race to allow kids to move into it gradually,” West Valley head cross country coach Dan Callahan said. “Even though it’s only 3,200 meters instead of 5,000, it’s pretty hard because it’s all hill except for the part they do at the start and the finish.”
Kramer, who hadn’t run this course before Saturday, described the route as a “rude awakening into cross country racing.”
However, spectators wouldn’t have known the defending Division I cross-country state champion was struggling after she crossed the finish in 11 minutes, 48 seconds and no other runner in sight. Runner-up, West Valley junior Naomi Bailey, finished 38 seconds later.
“You know Kendall is Kendall and it’s her last year. That’s very fitting for her to finish out doing something like that,” Callahan said.
Kramer has made a name for herself in Alaska after having strong, and often dominant, showings in Region VI high school track and cross country running and skiing competitions for the past three years, and racking up track and cross-country state championship titles, She also captured a few junior women’s titles last winter in national cross-country ski races and debuted in the world junior championships.
Most of the spectators lining theUAF West Ridge course Saturday yelled her name, cheering her on as she crossed the finish line.
Kramer’s past success has, in turn, resulted in high outside and personal expectations for her final high school season, which she considers a positive and a negative.
“I don’t even know how I do it consistently — have these good results every time,” Kramer said, marveling at her own success.
“But that can kind of be a downside when I’m not feeling my best but I have to put up that result because that’s what I’ve always done. So there definitely is pressure and that makes me nervous, but those nerves turn into adrenaline and that helps me.”
Kramer is hoping to clock a 5-kilometer time under 17 minutes during this cross country running season. She hit that milestone last year on a flat course in Washington state, but keeping the same place on an Alaskan course she said, “would be a pretty great feat.”
The three-sport athlete isn’t sure what will come after this year. She would prefer to focus on cross-country skiing in college, but the limited number of collegiate cross-country skiing programs makes that a challenge.
“What I’m prioritizing right now is the education; so I’ll see what sport I end up doing,’’ she said. “ It might be easier to go on a running scholarship and go to the school I really want to go to.”
While Kramer took the spotlight for the girls, there wasn’t a standout in the boys race.
The overall dominance of West Valley was impressive, with the top-five finishes belonging to the Wolfpack in the boys varsity race.
Senior Jack Carter took the win in 11:14. Nolan Earnest edged out Daniel Abramowicz in a photo finish to take second with a time of 11:20.
“I really wasn’t even thinking about winning,” Carter said. “I’m really looking to have a strong team for state this year so I was really just seeing how we run together.
“We stuck together as a pack and that was the main goal.”
Callahan expects his boys team will continue to round out. Eric Difolco finished in eighth place (11:46) Saturday, but Callahan expects the junior will make his way to the top varsity group as he gets more miles under his feet.
In addition to Difolco, Shane Fisher took the top spot in 11:26 and broke the course record in the boys freshman race. The time would have been good enough for a fourth place finish in the boys varsity race.
“He is very promising. … Freshmen really have no idea what they can do,” Callahan said.
Lathrop’s Amy Pilon made her high school cross-country debut in record-breaking fashion, surpassing the previous gold standard for freshman girls by six seconds with a time of 13:22.
The newcomer to the high school cross country scene approached Kramer after the girls race to ask the verteran her time.
In the moment, Kramer wasn’t even sure, but after retrieving the result from her mother she relayed it to Pilon, who was notably impressed.
The record-setting day on West Ridge certainly set standards for racers to aspire to.
Complete results will be published Monday on the Scoreboard on Page B2.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7530. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMsports.