Petersburg senior, Koren Sperl (left) chases freshman Uriah Lucas to the finish line in the Southeast Regional meet in Juneau. Lucas finished 23rd and Sperl 24th. (Photo by Klas Stolpe/Sitka Sentinel)

Petersburg High School girls’ cross country team took first place at the Southeast Regional Meet and the boys team took third. That means that both teams will be heading to the State meet this week in Anchorage. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

The regional meet was in Juneau and included all the teams from Southeast. The girls took first place among 1, 2, and 3-A schools ahead Sitka in second and Haines in third. Two Petersburg runners took the top two spots like they did last year.

Sophomore Maia Cowan won the race again with a time of 19 minutes and 48 seconds. Sophomore Kendra Coonrad followed her in at 20 minutes and 51 seconds.

Cowan basically ran the race alone. She says she had to push herself; there was no one to chase.

“That was part of the reason that I probably didn’t get a PR [personal record] was there was no one to run with,” Cowan said. “I was just running it by myself the whole race.”

Winning the regional race for the second time was what Cowan expected. She’s ranked first in Southeast and third in the state.

Junior Melanie Chase finished in 6th place for the Viking girls, Senior Avery Skeek took 11th place, and Senior Eva Lenhard took 16th place.

Petersburg sophomores, Maia Cowan (left) and Kendra Coonrad (right) start the 5K Regional meet in Juneau. Cowan finished 1st and Koonrad, 2nd, the same placings they took last year as freshmen. (Photo by Klas Stolpe/Sitka Sentinel)

Coach Tom Thompson says the girls did great as expected. He says the boys also did well.

“Really strong performance by the boys,” Thompson said. “We have a few injuries so we finished third instead of second but really great efforts. I mean, I couldn’t ask the kids to run harder. They’re doing great.”

Senior Tolin Eddy led the boys in 11th place with a time of 18 minutes and 22 seconds. Freshman Chase Lister took 16th place, Sophomore Brennan Skeek 18th place. Then there was a pack Vikings finishing 23rd, 24th, and 25th. That was Freshman Uriah Lucas, Senior Koren Sperl, and Junior Kole Sperl respectively.

Petersburg Junior Kole Sperl fights Metlakatla’s Navin Valley for 25th place at the finish line in the Southeast Regional meet in Juneau. Sperl finished 25th and Valley 26th. (Photo by Klas Stolpe/Sitka Sentinel)

Cross country is equally as mentally challenging as it is physically challenging as anyone on the team will tell you. It’s also about learning how to run the 5K race. Both Coonrad and Cowan say they learned that last year as freshmen.

“My first three races, I thought ‘Oh my goodness this is so horrible, it feels disgusting while you’re running it,’” Cowan siad. “And then I realized that you can run so much faster once your pain tolerance is up a little higher.”

Coonrad agrees that she’s learned how to run through the pain. Now, her goal is to tweak her performance in small ways to knock off more time.

“You can actually push yourself harder than you thought,” Coonrad said, “and because of that, in practice, I’ve gotten faster this year and I just want to keep finding those things and keep getting faster.”

Petersburg senior, Avery Skeek, finishes the Southeast Regional meet in 11th place. She’s been nursing a hip injury since she was a freshman but still loves to run. (Photo by Klas Stolpe/Sitka Sentinel)

Runners say the race course at State is particularly challenging. There are a lot of hills and curves. Coach Thompson says it’s also beautiful.

“It’s all covered with yellow and orange leaves and it’s a cross country skiing course in the winter time and they get just as much downhill as they get uphill,” Thompson said, “and so they have to be really aggressive on the course, you can’t ever just relax and say I’m going to coast through this part because you turn around and there’s another hill going up so they have to be really, really aggressive on it.”

The cross country teams fly out to the state meet Thursday morning and return Sunday afternoon.