Cross country

Derek Clarkston/Kodiak Daily Mirror

Kodiak High School cross country runners Paul Winegeart, left, Carly Glover, Braxton Gruner, Maddie Christiansen and Brenden Thompson will run at the Division I state championship meet on Saturday in Anchorage. 

Two hockey players. One baseball player. Two full-time runners. 

That is the DNA of the group representing Kodiak at the Division I — formerly known as 4A — state cross country championships on Saturday at Bartlett High School in Anchorage.   

Carly Glover and Braxton Gruner are accomplished hockey players, while Paul Winegeart’s first passion is baseball. Brenden Thompson and Maddie Christiansen are the two odd balls who only compete in endurance sports.  

“They are definitely diverse athletes that come from a variety of different backgrounds,” longtime Kodiak coach Marcus Dunbar said.

It could be Dunbar’s most unusual group that he is taking to state. It is the smallest contingent of Kodiak runners heading to state since 1998 — that was the last year Kodiak did not qualify a boys team to the big dance. The Kodiak girls have not ran as a team at state since 2011. 

This trip to Bartlett High School will have a different feel for Dunbar, who routinely brings with him a boys team contending for a state title. Since 2005, Kodiak has won four times and finished in the top three eight times. Simply amazing. 

Instead of keeping a running tally of the team standings on his version of the matrix — a white piece of paper with a bunch of scribble marks —  he will watch as Dimond, West Valley and West Anchorage battle for state supremacy. 

“This year will be a little more relaxed, and I’m hoping for the individual performances,” Dunbar said.

The group of five runners will receive all of Dunbar’s attention in what will be his final high school cross country championships as Kodiak’s coach.  

Carly Glover

It could be said that Glover, a sophomore, runs to stay in shape for hockey. 

For the past four weeks, Glover has been pulling double-duty — running cross country for Kodiak and playing hockey for the Alaska All-Stars 19AA girls squad based in Anchorage. 

 Think she’s not busy? Try this. 

Glover celebrated her state-qualifying performance at last week’s Region III Cross Country Championships by skating in a pair of hockey games.

“We lost both our games, but we only had six girls and we were playing 18U boys,” said Glover, whose older sister, Hannah, will join the team after Kodiak’s swimming season is over in November. 

This is Carly Glover’s second stint playing for the Alaska All-Stars.  Last year she was on a 16U team that traveled to Detroit, Toronto and Anaheim, California. 

The coach of the team discovered Glover, who started skating at the age of 2, during a hockey camp and invited her to play on the select team. 

“There is a lot of good girls out there,” said Glover. 

Kodiak’s No. 1 runner will run at the state meet on Saturday and then head straight to hockey practice. 

Glover is looking to improve on her 29th-place state finish from a year ago.  

“She is dedicated. Hockey is her main thing and cross country is getting her in shape for that,” Dunbar said. “We are happy to have her when we have her, because she is an awesome runner, too.” 

Maddie Christiansen

Christiansen, a junior, has running in her genes. Her cousin is Cole Christiansen, who ran to three top-10 finishes at state during his four-year career with Kodiak.

This is Maddie’s second state appearance after finishing 41st last year.

She qualified for state with her 13th-place showing at last week’s regional meet. 

Christiansen persevered through a few health issues — asthma and numbness in her feet — throughout the season. 

Dunbar said Christiansen’s biggest challenge this season was working on the mental part of racing. 

“She has done a lot better at keeping even keel, and knowing how hard to push and what her limits are,” Dunbar said. “She has done very well, lately.”

Christiansen, who started running in middle school, said her goal is to run under 21 minutes on the Bartlett Trails. Her fastest time this year is 21:50. 

“We have only run on slower courses this year, so I am excited to run a faster course,” said Christiansen, who grew up in Old Harbor. 

Brenden Thompson

If Thompson — Kodiak’s No. 1 runner — can finish inside the top 10 of the boys’ race, he would extend an impressive Kodiak streak. 

The Bears have placed a runner inside the top 10 in the past 12 state races, which is currently the longest streak by any 4A team in the state.

He is hoping for a top 15 finish, but Dunbar believes Thompson has the potential to keep the streak alive, which dates back to 2005. 

“If he continues to get better each week like he has been doing, and can pop off as good as a race at state as he did at regions, it is not out of the question for a top 10 finish,” Dunbar said. 

Thompson, last year’s 59th-place finisher at state, entered his senior season as Kodiak’s No. 1 runner, replacing the graduated Keith Osowski and Jack Hannah.   

He said this year has been different than his previous three seasons with Kodiak. He finished third at last week’s regional. 

“Everyone else is looking up to you, and you are the one leading the decisions,” Thompson said. “It has been exciting to see what the people did before me and to see what I could do better.” 

At 16, Thompson is younger than most seniors. However, he is having a career year. He set his personal-best 5-kilometer time of 17:14 on his grueling home course at Fort Abercrombie State Historical Park. 

He said it will be odd not having the entire Kodiak team at the state meet with him. 

“It is going to be different, but it is a good group of people going,” he said. “I’m going to be sharing a (starting) box with a Kenai kid. That will be different.” 

Braxton Gruner

If not for Glover, Gruner might not even be running cross country. 

For the past couple of winters, the two played together on a Kodiak Hockey League traveling team. Last year, they were on a squad that finished second at the Alaska State Hockey Association 18U Tier IV State Tournament. 

Glover, along with Dunbar, convinced Gruner to give running a try. He has excelled on the trails, becoming Kodiak’s No. 2 runner.

“She talked to me a lot about how it would get me in shape for hockey,” Gruner said. “Once I started doing it, it was more about actually doing the sport than just trying to stay in shape.”  

He qualified for state with an eighth-place finish at regionals. 

“I was super proud,” Gruner said. “That was my goal, but I didn’t know it would be top 10.”

Gruner credits Thompson and Dunbar for his instant success in cross country, and he plans on sticking with the sport the rest of his high school career.   

“He just keeps getting better,” said Dunbar after the last regular-season meet at Fort Abercrombie. “He is so raw and new to this whole thing ... I don’t think we have seen what he is fully capable of just yet.” 

Paul Winegeart

Winegeart, a junior, will be making his first appearance at the state meet. He qualified by finishing 14th at the regional meet, two spots and eight seconds back from missing the cut. 

With 200 meters left in the 5-kilometer race, he was sitting at 17th. 

“I could see the two in front of me that would make the difference between going to state,” Winegeart said. “In that last 200 I passed them and gave it all I had.” 

Winegeart didn’t start running cross country until his freshman year. Before that he was all baseball. He still is all baseball as a member of Kodiak’s diamond team. He also umpired Kodiak Little League games last spring. 

“We are a big baseball family,” Winegeart said. 

Winegeart didn’t travel as a freshman, but as a sophomore finished as Kodiak’s top junior varsity runner. With the loss of four varsity runners from last year’s team, Winegeart slid into the No. 3 slot and has produced. His top time is 17:56. 

“(Cross country) has definitely taught me endurance and how to deal with pain in long durations,” he said. 

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