As the Tundra Turns–an Alaskan soap opera

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  • #5672


    They have incredible coverage of high school aerobic sports here in Alaska, particularly my favorites, running and skiing. 

    West Valley HS of Fairbanks has been ranked among the top 10 – 15 in the US for the past couple of years. And with a full team they may even be as good as top 5 or 6 this year. Their regular season is over with, but they are continuing to train for the major championship races in the Lower 48. The thing is, the nature of high school level post season running has change over the past couple of years. It used to be that once the season was over, people either ended their season or aimed for Footlocker. But now Nike has added this new national team championship in Portland.

    So the dilemma for a 16 year old star runner–who wants to get a top-flight college scholarship–which do you do? Where do yor loyalties lie? The team has opted for the Nike championships, but Crystal Pitney, who has usually been their frontrunner, has decided to aim for USATF and Footlocker.

    IMO, the regular season is over, so it's her choice. But that choice has split the running community into different camps, and it has spilled into the press. Our local paper handled it very diplomatically and factually. Basically, just saying that Crystal decided to go the Footlocker route. The Anchorage Daily news (below) decided to rake up some mud and throw it in the face of a 16 year old girl. There is a fair amount of intrigue going on–and it might boil down to some personality issues on the team and a conflict between parents and the coach.

    What do you think? Should an athlete stay with their team for the post-season, or is it okay to break off on their own. This could actually be solved by creating an all–HS team/individual championship, combining Footlocker and Nike. But then again, do we really need that level of competition for 14 to 17 year olds?

    Pitney opts to become a lone wolf

    WEST VALLEY: Runner decides to skip Nike Team Nationals and swim instead.

    Anchorage Daily News

    Published: October 12, 2006
    Last Modified: October 12, 2006 at 03:34 AM

    After winning its third straight Class 4A girls state title two weeks ago, West Valley is the top-ranked cross-country running team in the Northwest Region, according to, a prep running Web site.

    West Valley will likely keep that ranking and qualify for the Nike Team Nationals — the Super Bowl of prep cross-country races — in December. And it would compete there without top runner Crystal Pitney.

    The junior, 2005 state champion and keystone to this running dynasty, said she has chosen other routes. Pitney is finishing the rest of her extended cross-country season solo and is staying in shape swimming for West Valley.

    “Last year I ran at Nike, and it was good,” Pitney said by phone in Fairbanks. “But it's not exactly what my goals are right now.

    “I'm still running, just in different races.”

    Her goals, she said, are to get more exposure in front of college recruiters and experience different cross-country courses. For instance, she will run at the Mt. SAC (Calif.) Invitational later this month and a USA Track & Field race in November.

    These races, she said, should prime her for the Foot Locker Invitational, an individual 3-mile race in southern California on Dec. 2 — the same day as the Nike Team Nationals, where West Valley placed 15th last season.

    Pitney said there are no hard feelings between her and a core of West Valley girls who have won six state titles in three different sports since Pitney was a freshman. They've won three straight in cross country, two in track and field and one in cross-country skiing.

    “I'm totally supportive of my team, and I know they are supportive of me,” Pitney said.

    West Valley head coach Doug Herron downplayed his top runner's early departure, saying her goals “are not aligned” with the “team approach” of trying to become a national champion.

    “If someone has different goals, that's not a bad thing,” he said. “That's just how it is.”

    Some coaches saw it coming.

    “I knew months ago that Crystal was going that route, doing the prima donna thing,” said West coach Joe Alward, who watched West Valley beat his Eagles by 18 points to win this season's state title.

    “I think it's going to make it hard for her and that team. She's not going to be there when they need her most.”

    The Wolfpack didn't have Pitney last weekend at the prestigious Nike/Jim Danner Invitational in Oregon. West Valley finished second out of 21 teams. The second-ranked team in California, Saugus High, won by six points.

    “They did an awesome job,” Herron said of his team. “I don't think people thought we'd be able to compete without our top runner.

    “That shows we can do it.”

    Without Pitney, who was West Valley's top runner at state, six Wolfpack runners averaged 18:49 in the 5-kilometer race; four placed in the top 25.

    “You put Pitney in that race and they would have crushed (the opposition),” Alward said.

    Senior Samantha Davis led the Wolfpack finishing ninth in 18:28, followed by senior Maggie Callahan (11th, 18:31), sophomore Kayla Teslow (15th, 18:43) and senior Becca Rorabaugh (24th, 18:51).

    Such a strong finish, Herron said, likely gives West Valley the No. 1 Northwest ranking heading into nationals.

    The top two teams in each region earn automatic bids to nationals, while other teams try to earn four at-large bids from eight different regions.

    Among the Alaska teams vying for at-large bids:

    • West girls, ranked seventh in the Northwest;

    • Juneau-Douglas girls, eighth and

    • Kodiak boys, ranked 10th.

    All three teams will run this weekend in the 5-K Adidas Classic in Portland, Ore.

    West Valley was slated to race there, Alward said. But the Wolfpack will be training at the University of Fairbanks' facilities and possibly competing in a few tune-up races Outside before Nationals, Herron said.

    Pitney, meanwhile, said she will train for the Foot Locker race on her own schedule while swimming the 200 individual medley and 100 breast stroke for the Wolfpack swim team.

    “I swim every day in the summer,” said Pitney, whose been swimming competitively since she was 6. “It's a good cardio that doesn't hurt your body.”

    Daily News reporter Kevin Klott can be reached at [email protected] or 257-4335.

  • #21861


    I have absolutely no background in college running, but wouldn't going off on your own not look good to college recruiters.  Eventhough running “is” very individual to “we” the runners, I think coaches would look at it negatively.

    However, I can't fault the girl, her swim season started and she's trying to schedule her running with her swim season, didn't Bo Jackson and Deion Sanders have overlap with their two sports of choice?  As a parent, I would be very happy with her choice, in 6 years both sports will be totally individual and she will less likely not be burnt out on either one.  So I'm with a “no” with your last question, kids don't need added competition.  Sounds like this one is saying loud and clear “she needs a break”

  • #21862


    For top high school runners, Foot Locker is still where it's at. If you want to be considered one of the best individuals in the nation and you want to get the Stanfords and BYUs of the world recruiting you, you go to Foot Locker.

    I'm all for the team aspect of cross-country but the team's season is over. She has to do what's best for herself. It sounds like her coach and teammates understand the situation. It's too bad that the one newspaper's writers and editors can't understand that and support her as her coach and teammates do. Hopefully, she doesn't let some mud slinging get her down.

    As for the swimming issue, high school is the time to explore your interests. She should be encouraged to pursue her interests, including both running and swimming.

  • #21863


    As is unfortunately typical, the fishhacks are clueless and get it wrong.  The Nike event is an extra race and a reeks of being a farcical corporate charade to serve adult egos (not unlike those displayed in the cited article) with the well-being of the kids themselves being a secondary consideration, at best.  It is no more important than Footlocker in any competitive scheme of things and has rubbed me the wrong way from its inception the same way little league on national televised broadcast does, there is no call for it.  If the team is that strong then they should have no problem competing well at this optional event. 

    Speaking of tundra, how quickly is it melting?

  • #21864


    Obviously I'm in complete agreement with you guys–it's too bad that the kids get this kind of pressure. This should be fun. Especially the post-season. It hits a little close too, because I coach some of the younger brothers and sisters of these kids, and they will be in the same fishbowl in a couple years. Not to mention one or two of my own, should they choose that path once they are in high school.

    The tundra itself is getting more bushy (no pun intended)–shrubs are expanding their range to former low-standing plant communities. Permafrost melting. Glaciers receeding at an alarming rate.

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