Heading into the final stretch of the season, Unalaska's cross country team is making a run at their first state title.
Senior Captain Henry Simmonds said his teammates have been making big progress — and breaking personal records — all season-long.
"It's like all of us are getting PRs — season PRs, career PRs — every weekend," he said. "It's been phenomenal."
The team's strong performance has come as a bit of a surprise. Simmonds said he's one of just three veterans leading a squad of freshmen and sophomore newcomers.
"Seeing us actually having a shot at state, especially with all these new runners, is really exciting," he said. "It's just something we never expected. We had high hopes last year or the year before that with [2019 graduate] Trevor Wilson. But it's crazy to see how we might actually win state this year."
Asked why they're doing so well, senior Michael Pereat credited the team's training.
"Practice is very hard," he said. "It pushes us to our limits, and it's just mostly about mental toughness. Coach [David] Gibson always talks about that — preparing ourselves for a race and not doubting ourselves."
Junior Blaine Henning also pointed to the mentorship between veterans like himself and the newer runners.
"I've been trying to do that. Like, my brother — he's [on the team]," said Henning. "I'm just trying to keep him in it and make sure he's doing good. Maybe he might be able to beat my best time. I'd be proud."
Beyond their development, Gibson said his 2A team will benefit from a structural change at the state competition. Rather than running against larger 3A schools like they have in past postseasons, they'll take on 1A and other 2A programs of similar size.
He said that should help them improve on their best finish at fifth place and put them in the running for a title — even against some wild-card competitors.
"Southeast are the schools that we never really know about," said Gibson. "They stay in their own little area, so it'll be interesting to see what they bring to state. I think that's who we're going to compete against."
The cross country team has their final invitational of the regular season in Wasilla this week.
They'll hold their regional qualifier at Unalaska's Kelty Field next week and then head to Anchorage for state during the first week of October.