The Kodiak High School boys cross country team comes into the 2007 season with gigantic red targets on their backs.
It’s not because they are running for Team Target. It’s because every team in the state will be gunning for the defending 4A state champions.
“We got targets on our backs for sure,” said Trevor Dunbar, the defending individual 4A state champion.
Kodiak is ready for the challenge even though they lost four key runners - Cory Pena, Lucas Fried, Miles Dunbar and Jordan Foster - from last year’s state title team.
“It will be difficult to repeat for two reasons, because we have a lot of new faces and guys that haven’t run varsity before,” head coach Marcus Dunbar said. “But, also because we got a big target on our back. All the teams are pointing at us. Every time we show up to a race, teams are going to try to get up for it.”
Returning from a team that went 92-0 and brought the first boys cross country state title to Kodiak are Trevor Dunbar, Sam Salus and Benny Garcia.
They will be asked to carry the team throughout the season.
“We sure do, you know,” said Salus about feeling pressure to carry the load. “It’s up to me, Trevor and Benny - the returning champs - to finish the job.”
The job is always easier when the state’s top runner is returning in the best shape of his young life.
“I’ve never seen Trevor look better,” said Marcus Dunbar, his father and coach. “This is the first time he has had uninterrupted training for 12 months. He hasn’t had any setbacks since the start of last year’s cross country season.”
Between Trevor’s freshman and sophomore year he had some injuries that kept him from training continuously. It didn’t seem to set Trevor back all that much as he became Kodiak’s first boys individual state title holder.
Now a junior, he has never felt better.
“I’m feeling really good right now,” Trevor said. “Not having any setbacks should make a big difference on how I handle the race and also how I recover so I can race harder each race and feel good for the next one.”
Marcus witnessed firsthand just what great shape Trevor is in during a practice at Fort Abercrombie last week.
“I would run and get a big head start and think I’m OK, but he would still pass me,” Marcus said. “I was thinking if he catches me, I could run with him to the end, but I couldn’t even do that. He was hitting times that were faster than the record times on this course.”
Trevor has lofty goals for the season that gets under way today at Colony against Colony, Palmer and Wasilla. He hopes to repeat as the state champion and he has his eyes set on becoming the first Alaskan since Miguel Gomez in the early ’90s to run at in the Foot Locker National race in San Diego.
However, his biggest goal is to have his team repeat as state champs.
Kodiak’s chances are promising, but outside of the top four - Trevor, Salus, Garcia and Colton Cubbedge - there are a lot of question marks.
“After Colton there is some unknown territory,” Marcus said. “We probably got eight guys vying for those next three spots on the varsity, which is a healthy situation to have.”
Competing for the final three spots are Dylan Anthony (sophomore), Justin Blott (junior), Caleb Heinrichs (senior), Marlon Branson (senior) and Luke Engvall (senior).
Losing the bulk of the varsity squad to graduation has its ups and downs, but Marcus believes it will spark the team.
“We got to rebuild, but on the bright side, all these younger guys are really motivated because they can see the openings and the possibilities of getting those varsity positions,” Dunbar said. “We had a lot of guys that worked hard over the summer and are working hard right now. I think it nourishes the growth in the program by opening up some doors.
“We don’t question that we are sorry to lose Cory Pena, Lucas Fried and Miles Dunbar. Those guys were on the varsity for three and four years, so it is definitely a changing of the guard,” he added.
Colony and South Anchorage should be the teams to look out for Marcus said. Kodiak will face Colony several times this season, including a home meet on Sept. 15.
Marcus is not ruling out the chances of a repeat as state champs, though.
“I think a repeat is a good possibility. I think they got what it takes,” Marcus said. “But, it will be a challenge. There will be teams gunning for us and there will be people that will be asked to run faster than they have ever run before. I think they are up for the challenge.”
Today starts the journey to a repeat title.
Mirror writer Derek Clarkston can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.