With less than 100 meters to go in Saturday’s Class 4A boys cross-country running state championship race, Chugiak’s David McPhetres was cruising to a top 10 finish.
Not so fast.
Heading into the finish chute, McPhetres’ feet got tangled with another runner’s and the Chugiak runner went skidding to his hands and knees. Watching from the sidelines, David’s mom (and Chugiak coach) Tina, said she nearly lost it.
“I said a bad word,” she confided after the race.
Not David. Instead, the easygoing junior hopped immediately to his feet and returned to the race, sprinting to the finish line in a career-best ninth place.
“I’m actually really happy,” said David McPhetres, who improved four spots from last season.
While David had every reason to grumble at the finish line — the trip cost the junior a couple spots in the standings — he was instead all smiles, waiting at the finish with a handshake for every single runner.
“Everybody’s working hard, everybody’s going for the same thing. They all plan on winning, whether it’s a personal goal or whatever,” he said of the gesture, which he makes at every race. “Everybody deserves to be recognized.”
That sportsmanship extended to the costly trip, which McPhetres tried to claim was his fault.
“I don’t blame the guy who got me because it’s all racing,” he said.
McPhetres tied Eagle River’s Hannah Stevens as the top local finishers on the muddy, sun-drenched Bartlett High trails. Stevens, a senior, equaled her ninth-place finish from a season ago.
“It’s a great way to end my running career,” she said.
Stevens edged Service’s Jenette Northey in an all-out sprint to the finish.
“I just went for it,” Stevens said.
Chugiak’s Sam Hartke also finished her career on a high note, finishing 16th for the Mustangs to improve 14 spots from last year.
Hartke said the muddy conditions made for challenging racing.
“It was like a Slip-and-Slide the first 400 meters,” she said.
Hartke said she warned her younger sister Sara — a freshman running in her first state meet — to avoid getting caught up with other runners.
“It’s an art out there,” Sam said. “You have to know how to step and get around people without getting hit yourself.”
Sara, who finished 56th, said big sister’s advice came in handy.
“She told me to stick with the people I knew I could keep up with,” Sara said.
Although Eagle River will lose Stevens, the Wolves saw a future star emerge in sophomore Sierra Richardson. Richardson, who qualified for state by finishing 12th at last weekend’s Region IV meet, finished 18th on Saturday — beating three runners who bested her at regions in the process.
Kenai Central’s Allie Ostrander won the 4A girls race in a time of 18:46. Kodiak’s Levi Thomet was the boys’ champion in 16:11. The West Valley boys and Wasilla girls won team titles.
The Chugiak boys also got a look at their future as a pair of freshmen were the next Mustangs across the line behind McPhetres. Ty Jordan was 38th in his state debut and Roan Hall was 54th.
After the race, the young Mustangs said the pressure of running at state didn’t seem like much of a factor — at first.
“It didn’t seem like any big deal,” Jordan said.
After lining up at the starting line surrounded by the state’s best runners, Hall said the reality of state began to set in.
“It was like, ‘Wow, there’s a couple people here,’” Hall said.
Chugiak finished ninth out of 10 teams in the overall boys standings, but only senior Chris Kveseth (68th) won’t be back next season. Freshman Jack Ginter, who was 80th, said he thinks that youth bodes well for upcoming seasons.
“I think this shows real promise for the future,” Ginter said.
Chugiak junior Tim Sorensen was 59th for the Mustangs, while sophomore Tyler Foster was 79th.
The chilly morning began with fresh snow on the trails — a fitting end to a season that for many runners dovetails into the cross country skiing season.
“I was actually excited about the snow this morning,” said Sam Hartke.
Eagle River’s Stevens agreed with her friendly rival, who she’ll soon be competing against on the fluffy stuff.
“Skiing’s on its way!” she said.