During their first three years of high school cross country, Zander Maurer and Naomi Bailey paid their dues, bided their time, waited their turns.
As seniors, with all that character-building stuff behind them, they seized the moment.
Maurer, a Service High runner, won the Division I boys state championship to cap a career that every year brought him closer to the pinnacle.
Bailey, a West Valley runner, won the girls title to finish a career that took her from understudy to star.
“I’ve wanted to be a state champion for awhile,” said Maurer, a key member of the Service Cougars for four straight years. “I knew it could happen today, but I wasn’t sure.”
He won in 15 minutes, 24 seconds, to beat rival Michael Earnhart of Chugiak by 27 seconds.
The victory completed a steady progression up the standings at the state championships for Maurer — he placed 15th as a freshman, third as a sophomore and second last year.
He arrived at the top with a personal-best time 12 seconds faster than his previous best, posted last year in Palmer.
“A PR that big is nice, because this year it’s been harder to run faster," Maurer said.
The season was shorter than ever and there were no mass starts, all because of COVID-19, and Maurer’s rivals from years past — Sonny Prosser of Dimond, Hyrum Nelson of Chugiak — graduated last spring.
“(They) kind of helped me push my limits," he said.
For Bailey, it was West Valley coach Dan Callahan who provided the push.
“He saw the drive and the love of running, and he brought me to where I am today,” she said.
Bailey started her career as a junior varsity runner for West Valley and though she didn’t run at state as a freshman, she won the Region VI junior varsity race. She placed 11th at state as a sophomore and third as a junior.
All the while, she got faster and faster, breaking the 18-minute barrier for the first time this season.
On Saturday she finished in less than 18 minutes for the third straight race, winning in 17 minutes, 56 seconds. South High’s Ava Earl was second in 18:32.
Earl is a senior who was second in the state as a freshman and fourth the last two years. She knew she would have her hands full with Bailey, so she wrote inspirational messages on the both sides of both hands. On one hand she wrote, “Stay with her.”
Easier written than run, especially after Bailey zipped through the first kilometer in 3:15.
“I went out intentionally hard," Bailey said. "I thought, why not? You’re there, you’re ready to run, you’ve trained.”
After that first kilometer, Earl knew staying with Bailey wasn’t going to happen. "I said, OK, I’m going to run my own race.”
On her other hand, Earl wrote, “Do it for the team.” It was a special message for a meet with no team competition. To keep crowds small, the Alaska School Activities Association kept the races and the crowd small by eliminating the team competition.
Anchorage coaches tried to persuade ASAA to change its mind, and when they couldn’t, they came up with an alternative.
After all of the ASAA-sanctioned races ended Saturday, nearly 100 runners who didn’t qualify for the championships ran the same course in an invitational team race OK’d by the Anchorage School District and sponsored by Skinny Raven.
Results from the invitational were combined with results from the championship races to determine team standings, with “grand champion” titles going to the Grace Christian boys and the Service girls.
The invitational race started about an hour after the Division I races ended, and Earl said she couldn’t wait to support teammates who didn’t qualify for the state meet.
“People who deserved to run at state get to,” she said.
When team results were sorted into separate divisions for Division I and Division II, the Service Cougars swept the titles, with the boys slipping past West by 13 points and the girls winning a close three-way battle by beating Chugiak by two points and South by three points.
The last time Service pulled off a sweep at the state meet was 1996.
“It’s pretty special to be on our team right now,” Maurer said.
After the invitational race was over, timekeepers sorted out the standings while runners gathered in a socially distant manner in front of Kincaid’s giant electronic scoreboard, waiting for the results. They gave a huge cheer when the final team scores appeared.
“It really mattered," said West High assistant coach Joey Caterinichio, who took the lead in making a team event happen this year.
Runners took note of the efforts made by Caterinichio and others to make a season happen despite a delayed start imposed by the Anchorage School District as a result of the pandemic.
As he was wrapping up a postrace interview, Maurer asked if he could say one more thing.
“I just want to thank all the people who put this season together,” he said, mentioning Caterinichio specifically. “They made it possible for us to race here.”
1. Alexander Maurer, Service 15:24; 2. Michael Earnhart, Chugiak 15:51; 3. Daniel Abramowicz, West Valley 16:01; 4. Tim Degener, Juneau-Douglas 16:12; 5. Jacob Lestina, Chugiak 16:33; 6. Aaron Power, Service 16:37; 7. Jared Gardiner, Dimond 16:43; 8. Forrest Rodgers, West Anchorage 16:49; 9. Tayson McKenzie, Dimond 16:50; 10. Zac Cheyette, Colony 16:51; 11. Shane Fisher, West Valley 16:51; 12. Brady Burrough, South Anchorage 16:58; 13. Tobias Buchanan, Colony 16:58; 14. Finn Morley, Juneau-Douglas 16:59; 15. Michael Connelly, Chugiak 17:01; 16. Ethan Howe, East Anchorage 17:03; 17. Landon Hayes, Wasilla 17:05; 18. Josh Baurick, West Valley 17:07; 19. Fisher Adams, Palmer 17:07; 20. Garrettt Streit, Colony 17:08; 21. Joel Power, Service 17:09; 22. Benjamin Pilon, Lathrop 17:18; 23. Bryson Powell, South Anchorage 17:23; 24. Mike Reem, Palmer 17:24; 25. Quinn Smith, West Anchorage 17:25; 26. Nicholas Prosser, Dimond 17:28; 27. Eli Crupi, Juneau-Douglas 17:28; 28. Owen Young, South Anchorage 17:39; 29. Aubrey Hekkers, Juneau-Douglas 17:41; 30. Asher James, Lathrop 17:43; 31. Brennon Lackey, Wasilla 17:49; 32. Paul Hlasny, Service 17:49; 33. Jonathan Ebel, Lathrop 17:52 34. Nathaniel Johnson, Soldotna 17:52; 35. Tobin Miller, Palmer 17:52; 36. Samuel Holst, Juneau-Douglas 17:56; 37. Matthew Johns, Thunder Mt 17:58 ;38. Will Robinson, Juneau-Douglas 18:05; 39. Maleda Denbrock, Soldotna 18:28.
1. Naomi Bailey, West Valley 17:56; 2. Ava Earl, South Anchorage 18:32; 3. Delainey Zock, Dimond 18:54; 4. Tatum Witter, Service 19:07; 5. Emily Erickson, Dimond 19:13 6. Nowelle Spencer, Service 19:17; 7. Robyn Miller, South Anchorage 19:19; 8. Kiah Dihle, Thunder Mt 19:19; 9. Gloria Bailey, West Valley 19:20; 10. Meredith Schwartz, Service 19:23; 11. Madeline Castillo, North Pole 19:36; 12. Skyler Belmear, Chugiak 19:38; 13. Emily Moore, Chugiak 19:46; 14. Addison Capozzi, Chugiak 19:46; 15. Sophie Wright, Palmer 19:46; 16. Skylar Tuckwood, Juneau-Douglas 19:46; 17. Anika Schwartz, Juneau-Douglas 19:49; 18. Iris White, Juneau-Douglas 19:52; 19. Campbell Peterson, Chugiak 20:00; 20. Payton Smith, West Anchorage 20:04; 21. Rayna Tuckwood, Juneau-Douglas 20:08; 22. Elliana Zock, South Anchorage 20:08; 23. Lucy Young, South Anchorage 20:20; 24. McKenna McNutt, Juneau-Douglas 20:23; 25. Natalie Hood, West Anchorage 20:34; 26. Lia Castillo, North Pole 20:36; 27. Riga Grubis, West Valley 20:53; 28. Jordan Strausbaugh, Soldotna 20:55; 29. Madeline Ortiz, Palmer 21:21; 30. Erika Arthur, Soldotna 21:26; 31. Danika Dawley, North Pole 21:42; 32. Shea Alaniva, Colony 21:46; 33. Lydia Bushey, Colony 21:48; 34. Jordan Ruffner, Soldotna 21:51; 35. Lucy Shea, Colony 22:15; 36. Katie Delker, Soldotna 22:16.
Grand champion (Division I and Division II combined)
Boys — Grace Christian 57, Service 102, Chugiak 118, West Anchorage 123, South Anchorage 134, Juneau Douglas 141, Anchorage Christian 141, Dimond 145,
Girls — Service 76, Chugiak 78, South 80, Juneau-Douglas 94, West Anchorage 156, Dimond 165, Grace Christian 208.
Boys — Service 73, West Anchorage 86, Chugiak 88, South Anchorage 94, Juneau Douglas 105, Dimond 107.
Girls -- Service 74, Chugiak 76, South Anchorage 77, Juneau-Douglas 90, West Anchorage 151, Dimond 152.
Boys — Grace Christian 21, Anchorage Christian 39.
Girls — Grace Christian 15.
This story has been updated with corrected team scores for Division I and Grand Champion girls.
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