ANCHORAGE — The Colony Knights brought both their boys and girls teams to the ASAA/First National Bank State Cross-Country Meet at Bartlett High School on Saturday. Led by fast freshmen in both races, the Knights showed that they can run with the pack and are looking ahead to three more years of strong finishes on the cross country trails.

“Freshmen rule,” said Colony freshmen Zac Cheyette.

Cheyette led the Knights runners that placed third at the Region III Championships at Palmer High School last week and were the only team representation from the Valley at state. The Knights boys and girls teams both finished in ninth place at state.

“It’s special being part of a group like this,” said Cheytte. “Hopefully by senior year we’re one of the top teams that can win state, but the goal is just to keep moving forward.”

Cheyette sped through the finish line with a ferocious kick at the end of the grueling 5,000-meter test. The trails at Bartlett are some of the most challenging in the state with long, punishing hills scattered throughout the course. The conditions were wet and muddy, making for slippery footing for runners along the edges of the trail. Cheyette led the Knights, finishing in just under 18 minutes. A trio of Knight boys came in just after Cheyette. Zachary Daniel, Lane Meier and Jayden Rice all finished within a two-second span between 18:03 and 18:05. The Knights not only brought the only team from the Valley to state, but did so running four freshmen.

“Through the season we really gained like a family here it’s just a brotherhood that I know it’s going to last forever,” said Daniel.

As cross-country runners are prone to politeness, brotherhood was not only seen among Colony runners. Palmer junior Noble Gurney led all Valley runners with a 37th place finish in 17:34. Gurney began the season winning the Redington Invite at Redington Jr./Sr. High School and capped his junior year with another first place finish among Valley runners at state.

“It’s been really friendly. All of us Valley runners, we just talked a lot about beaing Anchorage,” said Gurney.

Gurney employed the strategy that has worked for him all year, starting near the back of the chase pack and increasing his intensity throughout the course of the race. Gurney said that running cross-country against the fastest runners in the state compares to a chess match. Wasilla sophomore Landon Hayes had been pushing near the front of the chase pack for much of the race, but was overtaken by Gurney near the 4-K mark.

“The rest of the region like, we talk a little bit on the course. Like, I passed Noble I’d be like let’s go Noble. He passed me said let’s go Hayes,” said Hayes of his Valley competitor.

Hayes has two more years to run against Gurney and the Colony fast freshmen and hopes to win the region title next year. Hayes was joined by teammate Brennan Lackey finishing under 18 minutes and Kolten Greathouse finished in 18:36. What all runners could agree on after finishing the race was how challenging the course at Bartlett is for runners.

“Right at the 4K mark its a huge hill, so you see the sign and you’re like yay there’s 1K to go but then at the same time there’s a gigantic hill,” said Cheyette.

Palmer junior Mike Reem was part of a trio of Moose that made it to state. Reem said that the training of former head coach Chris Osiensky was inspirational, as well as senior leaders from last years team. Reem hopes that he and Gurney can vault the Moose runners to qualify for state next year. Similar to Cheyette and the rest of the runners, Reem was not a fan of big hills.

“You’re definitely tired, definitely just telling yourself you’ve got three minutes, give it everything you’ve got,” said Reem. “That’s the worst part and you’ve just got to keep telling yourself there’s a big downhill here, I’ve just got to keep pushing.”

Redington junior Anna Stephan finished just outside the top 20 in the girls’ Division II race. As the only Valley competitor, Stephan was able to achieve a goal she had set as a freshmen.

“Enormous pride. I’m so proud of her. She has been working hard ever since she was a freshman and she made it here. This was one of her goals making it to state and she did it,” said Redington head coach Francisco Campbell of Stephan.

Stephan finished in 21st place with a time of 22:00. Stephan had been running on a bad ankle all season, and said that she was only running at 80 percent health. While most of the runners finished their races covered in mud and miserable, Stephan found the silver lining and enjoyed getting dirty.

“I enjoy the rain and the mud. I think it’s fun. It kind of makes it challenging and just funner,” said Stephan.

As was the case for the boys, the Colony girls were led by another group of fast freshmen. The Knights’ top finisher was freshman Shea Alaniva in 31st place with a time of 20:27. Lone senior on the team, Sofija Spaic, finished under 22 minutes and was followed by Lydia Bushey, Lucy Shea and Abby Novak who all joined Spaic in finishing under 22 minutes.

“I could not ask for better. They’ve done great. I think especially because we have so many freshmen, it’s amazing,” said Knights co-head coach Rhonda Knopp.

The Colony girls came in hot off a Region III title last week and continued their fast performance at state.

“They’re young they’re going to go far,” said Spaic of her teammates.

Wasilla’s lone state qualifier, Abbi Boucher, finished in 56th place with a time of 21:18. Sophie Wright led the Moose with a 44th place finish in 20:46 and was closely followed by Lydia and Madeline Ortiz.

“We’re really funny when we race together because I start out too fast and she hangs back and then I’ll see her and we’ll all get like oddly competitive,” said Wright of Lydia Ortiz.

With a season’s worth of miles behind them, Wright shared the sentiment that most every runner felt on Saturday as she approached the 4K mark.

“The last (kilometer) is like oh God, can I be done,” said Wright.

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