It's not unusual for a freshman girl to burst onto the cross-country running scene in Alaska.
In 2006, Juneau's Leah Francis won the first of three Class 4A state titles as a freshman. Also in the last 10 years, Kenny Lake's Kailey Wilson won the Class 1-2-3A title as a freshman in 2008, and Seward's Rubye Foldager won the Class 1-2-3A crown as a freshman in 2004.
Even so, some longtime observers of Alaska cross-country who have seen their share of phenoms say the latest precocious youngster - Kenai Central freshman Allie Ostrander - may have the potential to run away from all the rest.
Ostrander will chase her first Class 4A state title Saturday at the Bartlett High School Trails in Anchorage.
"She's national caliber," said Dan Marshall, who has been the Seward head coach for 20 years. "She hasn't been tested head to head in a race in Alaska and I don't believe for one minute she will be unless she has the flu or something.
"She just runs so easy. She looks like a little deer."
When asked to compare Ostrander to other girls in Alaska cross-country history, Marshall comes up with just one name - Seward's Whitney Anderson.
Anderson won a 1-2-3A state title in 2003 as a junior for Seward, moved to Colorado as a senior and broke a 14-year-old state record in winning a 4A (the fourth largest of five categories) state title in the 3,200-meter run.
Anderson went to Duke University and as a freshman helped the Blue Devils rise to No. 1 in the nation and earned freshman of the year honors in the Atlantic Coast Conference. A hamstring injury then derailed her career.
Marshall said the effortless strides of Ostrander and Anderson set them apart from other girls that have dominated the Alaska scene.
"She runs with joy. She loves it," Marshall said of Ostrander. "There have been kids that have been dominant, but there hasn't been a girl this dominant."
Michael Janecek says there was a girl this dominant, but it was before Marshall's time. Janecek, who served as a volunteer assistant at Palmer in 1976 and has been a staple in Alaska cross-country ever since, brings up Kristy Waythomas, the only runner in Alaska history to win four big-schools state titles.
The Kodiak runner won them as Kristy Klinnert from 1983 to 1986 and never lost a race in her high school career. Waythomas was a three-time All-American in Division I cross-country at Northern Arizona University.
"She's super efficient, that's what we call it," Janecek said of Ostrander. "Of all the runners, only Kristy Klinnert has been as efficient."
Kodiak cross-country coach Marcus Dunbar put together a list of the top 100 times at the Michael Janecek Running Trails at Palmer High School. Due to the statewide Palmer Invitational and the state meet being held on the trails so many times, it's a great way to compare cross-country runners through the years.
Before the 2009 Palmer Invitational, the trails were slightly modified and Janecek said he thinks the trails are now a little harder, perhaps by about 15 seconds.
This year, Ostrander ran 17 minutes, 51 seconds, to win the Palmer Invitational and run the fastest time ever at Palmer.
The next best time came from Dimond's Darcy Dugan, with an 18:03 in 1998 on the old course. Dugan won state as a freshman and sophomore, and finished second to future Olympic skier Kikkan Randall as a junior and senior. Randall's best time at Palmer was 18:25. Last week, Ostrander put up the third time on the list with an 18:07 to win the Region III meet.
Waythomas makes the list with an 18:49 in 1986, but Janecek said a true measure of Waythomas' talent was the state record of 10:37.7 she put up in the 3,200 in 1986. The record still stands and is more than 20 seconds faster than Anderson's Colorado 3,200 record, which has since been broken.
Janecek cautioned that potential and achievement are two different things. He said Ostrander has a lot of work in front of her if she wants to be mentioned with the great Alaska cross-country runners.
Kenai Central coach D'Anna Gibson has more of a background in cross-country skiing than running, so she said she didn't feel comfortable giving Ostrander a place in Alaska cross-country history.
Gibson said she has been trying to keep the pressure low and the fun high for Ostrander as she seeks to join Mark Blanning as a state cross-country champion from Kenai Central.
But expectations can be tough to quell for someone that already had three junior girls Mount Marathon titles and had set and reset the junior girls record before enrolling in high school. Last summer, Ostrander finished in the top 10 overall - boys included - in the rough-and-tumble scramble halfway up and down the mountain overlooking Seward.
"I think she's aware of what it is but we don't dwell on that," Gibson said of expectations. "She's one of those runners that knows herself very well at a young age. I hate to use the word surprising, but it's rare at her age."
Ostrander will lead a Kenai Central girls team to state that is still dealing with the collapse of Bailey Beeson at the three-kilometer mark at last week's Region III meet. Beeson, who had a similar problem at two races last season, was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance and was feeling better by midafternoon.
As of Thursday night, Gibson said doctors still did not know what caused the incident. Gibson did not know if Beeson would attempt to run at state.
Even without their No. 2 runner, the Kardinals still finished second at regions. However, Gibson said the Kards are now focusing on individual, rather than team, goals.
Also running for the Kardinals will be Taylor Ostrander, Hope Steffensen, Noelle Schmitter-Schrier, Carolyn Kiefer and Courtney Stroh.
The final two Peninsula entrants in the Class 4A girls race come from Soldotna. Senior Bree Mucha qualified for her fourth straight state meet, while freshman Danielle McCormick made it on her first try.
Mucha has never finished lower than 11th at state. Soldotna coach Dan Harbison said a deep field will test her, but he said Mucha had the eighth-fastest time statewide last week. The caveat is Palmer is a fast course.
"She's definitely looking to get into the top 10," Harbison said.
The coach added that a top-25 finish would be great for McCormick.
There will be no Class 4A boys teams from the peninsula, but four boys did qualify individually. Soldotna's Dillon Jensen knocked 31 seconds off his best time at regions but missed qualifying by one slot.
Skyview's Micah Hilbish led the Peninsula by finishing fifth at regions, while teammate Sam Janorschke was 12th.
Kenai's Fox Michaud qualified with a sixth-place finish. Gibson said Michaud's hard work has pushed him to state in a year that has seen him deal with misfortune - from a missing bib to losing a shoe during a race.
The final Peninsula slot in the Class 4A state race went to Homer's Dan Adickes, who was eighth at regions.
In the Class 1-2-3A boys race, Seward junior Miles Knotek, like Allie Ostrander a junior Mount Marathon champ this summer, will look to become the first boys state winner from Seward since Matt Adams in 2004.
Knotek defeated defending state champion John Klein last week at regions. Marshall said Andrey Ionashku of Delta Junction is the runner to watch out for at state.
Ionashku took a commanding lead at state last year, but ended up losing to Klein by a second. Marshall is presuming Ionashku will start fast this year, too.
"We're not going to send Miles out after Andrey," Marshall said. "We're going to make sure he has a great experience, a great day and the team is solid. If Miles happens to pick him up on the course, fine. If he doesn't, that's fine, too."
Seward's Matthew Moore also defeated Klein at regions. Marshall would like to see a more fluid race from his Nos. 3, 4 and 5 runners - Michael Marshall, Jacob Marshall and Tannen Berry. Even with that, he said it would be hard to keep Grace Christian from a sixth-straight state title.
The Peninsula also will be represented by Nikolaevsk runners Blake Klaich and Eric Mametieff in the boys race. Last week, Klaich became the first Nikolaevsk runner to win a Region II individual championship.
On the girls side, Marshall said a dominant Grace team should win a fourth-straight state crown. His girls should be in the mix for second place.
Freshman Alice Pfeifenberger led Seward at regions by finishing eighth, while Laura Dyer was ninth. Marshall would like to see a more fluid race out of Josephine Braun, Isabel Barnwell and Meg Berry at state.
Also from the Peninsula, Kilina Klaich will become the first girl from Nikolaevsk to race at state.