High School Sports

Alaska’s fastest cross-country runner is the nation’s fastest too

Having already established himself as one of Alaska’s finest runners, Anchorage’s Tristian Merchant made his case as one of the nation’s finest this weekend with a record-breaking performance at the ACS Invitational.

A senior at Anchorage Christian School, Merchant recorded a time of 14 minutes, 45.2 seconds in the 5-kilometer race Friday at Cheney Lake.

The time is believed to be the fastest recorded by a high school runner in Alaska, said Marcus Dunbar, the former Kodiak High coach who is the state’s unofficial track and cross-country historian.

It’s the fastest high school time in the nation so far this season, according to athletic.net, which tracks high school and college performances. Second on the list is Izaiah Steury, a runner from Indiana with a time of 14:51.1.

Not all states have returned to competition this fall because of the coronavirus pandemic, but Merchant’s achievement doesn’t require an asterisk.

He is a two-time Division II state champion in cross country who ran a 15:04 at last year’s Region III championships, and last spring he became the fourth Alaska high schooler in history to dip below 9 minutes in a 3,200-meter race on the track when he recorded a 8:59.07 at a time trial at Bartlett High.

Dunbar said two of his athletes at Kodiak — Trevor Dunbar (his son) and Levi Thomet — ran sub-15:00 cross country times at meets in the Lower 48 while in high school, but neither ran faster than Merchant’s 14:45. Don Clary, Alaska’s greatest runner, ran for East High back in the 1970s, when cross-country distances were closer to 2 to 2.5 miles than today’s 3.1 miles.


“Tristian’s time should be the fastest,” Dunbar said.

Merchant won Friday’s two-lap race around Cheney Lake by 75 seconds. Preston Wethington of Grace Christian was second in 16:00.9.

ACS freshman Debbie Brower won the girls race in 19:36.2, a minute ahead of Megan Nelson of Grace Christian.

Teams from ACS, Grace Christian, Glennallen and Valdez competed in the meet.

ACS Invitational

Boys top 10 — 1) Tristian Merchant, ACS, 14:45.2; 2) Preston Wethington, Grace, 16:00.9; 3) David Sliwinski, Grace, 16:33.3; 4) Ty Elliott, Grace, 16:35.4; 5) Ben Thatcher, Grace, 16:36.0; 6) Cole Fritzel, Grace, 16:36.8; 7) Joshua Davis, ACS, 16:41.6; 8) Preston Merchant, ACS, 16:48.6; 9) Aiden Zingone, Grace, 16:59.8; 10) Geremu Daggett, Grace, 17:20.0.

Girls top 10 — 1) Debbie Brower, ACS, 19:36.2; 2) Megan Nelson, Grace, 20:36.2; 3) Elise Metzger, Grace, 20:50.3; 4) Faith Annett, Grace, 21:01.6; 5) Teagan Rude, Glennallen, 21:15.6; 6) Sophia Coverdell, Grace, 21:20.9; 7) Genevieve Trevithick, Grace, 21:31.0; 8) Reagan Lash, Grace, 21:35.7; 9) Kiah Widener, Grace, 21:36.4; 10; Brynna Gerlach, Glennallen, 21:59.1.

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Beth Bragg

Beth Bragg wrote about sports and other topics for the ADN for more than 35 years, much of it as sports editor. She retired in October 2021. She's contributing coverage of Alaskans involved in the 2022 Winter Olympics.