Inspiration trumped perspiration Saturday at the Cook Inlet Conference cross country championships at Kincaid Park. Champion Ty Jordan of Chugiak doubled as a motivational speaker, West High runners fed off each other race after race after race to dominate the team competition, and Anchorage School District administrator Michael Graham made an ungulate-inspired, mid-race decision to reroute the girls race.
First, the moose.
Kincaid is lousy with them, or so it seems in a week that saw an Anchorage cop kill a charging bull moose during a middle school cross country race, the slugs stopping the animal some 20 feet from the runners, according to witnesses.
On Saturday, a big bull showed up near the 3.5-kilometer mark of the girls varsity race, the sixth and final 5-K race of the day. The moose was agitated -- "He was whacking his head on the trees," Graham said -- and the lead pack was approaching.
So Graham -- the CIC boys champion in 1979 and the dad of an East High runner -- blocked the trail with his bicycle and directed runners to a single-track cutoff that rejoined the main trail a few hundred meters later.
"It turns out there was a footpath right there. They weren't bushwacking," said Graham, the district's chief academic officer. "We were very fortunate that cutoff was there."
The moose had been up a hill before coming down near the race trail and disappearing into the woods, Graham said. All appeared to be well until the moose suddenly popped out of the woods. Graham acted swiftly to change the race route, and the girls made the switch without missing a beat.
"I was in such a race mode that I didn't think about it -- somebody's telling me to go right, I go right," said West's Maddie Boutet, who placed third in the race. "Obviously we heard there was moose on the course, but we were the last race of the day and I assumed they would have cleared out by then."
The detour eliminated about 500 meters and the final big hill from the course. Race times were accordingly swift, with South High sophomore Morgan Lash dominating in 18 minutes, 21.8 seconds, far faster than her previous best of 19:40.
Lash, who ran for Grace Christian's powerhouse team last season, led a youth movement across the finish line. Sophomores grabbed the top four spots -- after Lash came Aislinn Waite of Service (18:34.9), Boutet (18:36.3) and Kaitlyn Bailly of South (18:43.3).
"It feels amazing," Lash said. "Any of that group of sophomore could have won."
West junior Kayle Blackmore, the early leader, finished fifth in 18:48.5, edging East senior Grace Graham by one-tenth of a second.
Boutet and Blackmore were among many runners who contributed to an impressive display of dominance by West. The Eagles won five of the six team titles up for grabs -- boys varsity, girls varsity, boys JV, girls JV and girls open.
In becoming the first school to sweep the varsity championships since Dimond in 1996, West's girls claimed their second straight title and the boys ended Service's six-year reign.
The girls placed all seven runners in the top 20. The boys placed all seven in the top 21. The girls had two in the top five, Boutet and Blackmore; the boys had two in the top six, third-place Larkin Lynch and sixth-place Finn Walker.
Lynch improved his personal record by 27 seconds and Walker had a similarly significant improvement, coach Ruth Barndt said.
In fact, just about everyone wearing orange had a personal best, she said -- not just the varsity girls who ran the shorter course.
"Ninety-five percent of them ran PRs, not only on the varsity team, but open and JV too," Barndt said. "That's really what you want to do at regions, is peak. We backed off on mileage the last week or so."
And then on race day, each team's success inspired another's.
"We actually talked about this in practice, about how important those open and JV races are," Boutet said. "When they perform well, we're excited and we want to perform well too. It was really exciting."
South claimed the second-place trophy in both boys and girls competition and is the only other CIC school that will send both teams to next week's state championships at Bartlett High.
"South has been doing really good this entire season," said Seiji Takagi, the lone senior on South's boys team.
Takagi finished second to Jordan, who surged into the lead in the third kilometer and pulled away for a decisive, 25-second victory.
"Ty passed me at about 31/2 kilometers and he had a lot left," Takagi said. "By keeping up with him I was able to pass a few people."
Jordan's time of 16:05.8 marked an enormous improvement from last season, when he placed 10th at the CIC meet in 17:29.
He has been a PR machine all season, slicing off dozens of seconds with every outing.
"At the Big 8 meet I ran 16:26," he said. "I've taken 20 seconds off my time each meet -- Bartlett Invitational, Skyview Invitational, Big 8 and now this."
The key, he said, was an increased dedication over the summer. He ran more, and he trained with the Alaska Running Academy, where coach Doug Herron helped improve his form and pacing.
"Last year I was running in the 17s and I said, you know what? I'm going to try to go under 17 this year," Jordan said. "And then in the first race I was in the 16s and I said, 'Now what do I do?'
"Might as well try to go for under 16.''
In an later interview with a race official that was broadcast on the P.A. system, an articulate Jordan urged runners to dream impossible dreams, and to strive hard to achieve them. It was a halftime speech in a sport with no halftime.
"He's figured out what he wants," Herron said. "He's set his goals high and he's ultra-motivated to get there."
Reach Beth Bragg at email@example.com or 257-4335.
Cook Inlet Conference Cross-Country Running Championships
Saturday at Kincaid Park
5-K unless otherwise noted
Team scores -- 1) West 44; 2) South 61; 3) Dimond 99; 4) Eagle River 102; 5) Service 118; 6) East 121; 7) Chugiak 147.
Individual results (estimated 4.5-K, detour of moose) -- 1) Morgan Lash, South, 18:21; 2) Aislinn Waite, Service, 18:34; 3) Maddy Boutet, West, 18:36; 4) Kaitlyn Bailly, South, 18:43; 5) Kayle Blackmore, West 18:48.5; 6) Grace Graham, East, 18:48.6; 7) Hannah Seidl, Dimond, 18:55; 8) Ursula Volz, West, 18:57.0; 9) Hannah Brown, South, 18:57.2; 10) Sara Hartke, Chugiak, 19:04; 11) Braoe Hirsch, West, 19:05; 12) Nikole Boogs, ER, 19:09; 13) Megan Fink, East, 19:13.3; 14) Erica Heil, Dimond, 19:13.5; 15) Hannah Booher, Chugiak, 19:21; 16) Veronica Stewart, ER, 19:22; 17) Tatiana Harris, West, 19:35; 18) Allison Shafer, Dimond, 19:37; 19) Katie Weddleton, West, 19:39; 20) Maggie York, West, 19:43; 21) Peyton Young, ER, 19:44; 22) Mykaela McMullen, Service, 19:58; 23) Emily Evans, South, 20:02; 24) Savannah Ulrich, South, 20:04; 25) Darby Judd, Dimond, 20:05; 26) Summer Frazier, ER, 20:13; 27) Kirsten Grismer, ER, 20:14; 28) Taryn Hunt-Smith, Service, 20:17; 29) Olivia Mueller, Chugiak, 20:18; 30) Meagan Bauer, Service, 20:19; 31) Morgan Flynn, East, 20:26; 32) Emily Biering, East, 20:29; 33) Lauren Grismer, ER, 20:32; 34) Bailey Desaussure, Bartlett, 20:43; 35) Theresa Fernette, South, 20:47; 36) Liesel Van Imhof, Dimond, 20:56; 37) Alisa Aist, Service, 21:07; 38) Sarah Souders, Service, 21:10; 39) Kate Paskievitch, ER, 21:13; 40) Mary Burr, East, 21:15; 41) Allie Epke, Dimond, 21:17; 42) Rachel Zafren, Service, 21:22; 43) Carina Welker, Dimond, 21:40; 44) Ana Jager, East, 21:43; 45) Naomi Kiekintveld, South, 22:08; 46) Megan Neale, East, 22:27; 47) Annie Connelly, Chugiak, 22:29; 48) Taylor Shafran, Chugiak, 23:04; 49) Amanda Bear, Chugiak, 24:38; 50) Gretchen Weinzirl, Chugiak, 24:56.
Team scores -- 1) West 48; 2) South 62; 3) Chugiak 65; 4) Service 102; 5) East 136; 6) Eagle River 141; 7) Dimond 143.
Individual results -- 1) Ty Jordan, Chugiak, 16:05; 2) Seiji Takagi, South, 16:30; 3) Larkin Lynch, West, 16:35; 4) Gilly Szweda-Mittelstadt, Service, 16:36; 5) David McPhetres, Chugiak, 16:44; 6) Finn Walker, West, 16:47; 7) John Farr, East, 16:50; 8) Spencer Mitton, South, 16:52; 9) Riley Howard, Service, 16:54; 10) Hamish Wolfe, South, 17:00; 11) Jacob Volz, West, 17:01.1; 12) Roan Hall, Chugiak, 17:01.5; 13) Brian Britt, West, 17:05; 14) Alec Smith, ER, 17:17; 15) Paul Butera, West, 17:19; 16) Jacob Walsh, ER, 17:20; 17) Thomas O'Harra, East, 17:28; 18) Atticus Everett, West, 17:29; 19) Hunter Thompson, Service, 17:31; 20) Lyle Chamberlain, South, 17:32; 21) Peter Moma, West, 17:33; 22) Derek Steele, South, 17:36; 23) Tim Sorensen, Chugiak, 17:42; 24) John Weaver, Chugiak, 17:46.6; 25) Luke Cvancara, Dimond, 17:46.9; 26) Luke Twenhafel, South, 17:53; 27) Charles Chard, East, 17:54; 28) Zayn Roohi, Dimond, 17:57; 29) Ben Froehlich, Dimond, 18:01; 30) Callum Toohey, Dimond, 18:06; 31) Kelson Denton, Dimond, 18:09; 32) Tyler Foster, Chugiak, 18:11.1; 33) Tristan Heil, Dimond, 18:11.4; 34) Adam Garrigus, Service, 18:11.7; 35) Gustavo Frankl, ER, 18;13; 36) Jorge Andino, Service, 18:16; 37) William Hail, ER, 18:21; 38) Jack Ginter, Chugiak, 18:23; 39) Benjamin Hall, ER, 18:24; 40) James Janezich, Dimond, 18:34; 41) Paul Matyas, East, 18:35; 42) Justin Carpenter, Service, 18:37; 43) John Hail, ER, 18:39; 44) Peter DeStefano, East, 18:51; 45) Zach Montoya, East, 19:16; 46) Kaidyn Milani, Service, 19:36; 47) Chance Deschamps-Prescott, South, 19:50; 48) Jeremy Candler, ER, 20:03; 49) Isaiah Mayac, East, 20:41.