Starry, starry Knight

Soldotna senior shines over great distances

Posted: Tuesday, January 29, 2002

Ask Brent Knight's teammates about him, and the first thing they'll tell you is he prefers to be called Brenton, or, even better, Mookie.

That will be followed with some tongue-in-cheek comments, but, eventually, they'll get serious for a moment.

"He's a good person, and he has a really good work ethic," said Mark Harro.

"He's a lot different out on the course," said Dan Harro. "When he puts his mind on whatever he's working on, it's 100 percent when he's out there."

Knight, a senior at Soldotna High School, is a member of the Stars cross-country running and skiing teams that have, to put it mildly, quite a bit of personality.

One might say that Knight wears his personality on his sleeve -- or at least on his vest, a rust-colored garment that has become his trademark during his career at Soldotna.

"I bought that close to the end of my freshman season at Value Village for $3. Sophomore year, I was playing with duct tape, and I wrote 'Prefontaine' on it," Knight said, referring to distance-running legend Steve Prefontaine.

Knight said his teammates missed the reference, and he changed it to "Thomas Alsgaard," a cross-country skiing great from Norway.

"From there, it went to other little things like, 'Take off, hoser,'" Knight said.

The vest had adorned Knight on the awards podium at every meet of his career until Dan and Mark Harro took it from him -- by force -- after the Mat-Su Pursuit earlier this season.

"They wanted me to be the same. I didn't want to conform," Knight said with a grin.

That personality is what has made the Stars three-time state cross country running champions as well as the two-time defending Region III cross-country skiing champions.

Knight has been a big part of that success, winning the 10-kilometer classic race at the borough championships last year and leading off Soldotna's 4-by-5-kilometer relay team that finished third at last year's state championships.

"He's very dedicated and very disciplined," Soldotna ski coach Dan Harbison said. "Things are really falling into place for him this year, both physically and technique-wise, and even mentally. He's come a long way from where he began."

Soldotna's team attitude is a big key to Knight's individual accomplishments.

"They seem to feed off each other. That's a great thing to see," Harbison said. "It's a great group of athletes, and that helps each individual person."

"I think the reason we win is that we have so much fun when we go out and run," Knight said of the Stars' run of success.

Knight's senior season has been going well -- the Stars successfully defended their state cross country title, with Knight taking eighth overall.

Knight has been faring well during the ski season, too, anchoring Soldotna's team to a win in Saturday's Nikiski Classic Sprint Relays. Earlier this month, Knight won his age-group race in the Besh Cup competition at McNeil Canyon Trails in Homer.

"I was kinda surprised," Knight said of his Besh Cup performance. "I didn't really get any sleep that night. I was having an all right first lap, but on the second lap, the guy from (Alaska Pacific University) caught me. I made myself stay with him."

"Brent's always had that potential. It just took him awhile to put it all together," Harbison said. "In the past two years we've seen him start to come on strong. At this point as his coach, the trick is to keep him healthy until the end of the season."

Knight said it's the competition that drives him on the course.

"Skiing really isn't all that much fun until you start racing," Knight said. "It's the same with cross country. Competition is the main thing. It's a lot of fun."

Knight said he started skiing in elementary school when his family returned to the peninsula after spending several years in California.

"(2001 Soldotna graduate) Andy Liebner and I started skiing in elementary school," Knight said. "Jason Dunagin and Andy were the fastest, and I'd always be trying to keep up with them."

Knight said he wasn't quite sure why he's stayed with the sport.

"There are reasons why I shouldn't be skiing -- it's a lot of money," Knight said. "I love it -- the competition is the whole thing."

While Knight's individual accomplishments are impressive, he said he cares more about how the team finishes.

"Every sport is a team sport. None of us care too much about individual places," Knight said. "(2000 Soldotna graduate) Brandon Newbould taught us everything we need to know about competing (in cross country running). He's the dad of our team. He'd say, 'Guys, the team is the thing.' That attitude crossed over into skiing, too."

Knight said the team's motto is "745," which stands for seven guys -- the number of runners that score in a cross-country meet -- for 5,000 meters.

While Knight's individual goals include cracking the top 10 at this year's state meet in Fairbanks, he also is excited about his team's chances at the meet.

"We think we're in the running for state," Knight said.

Knight has set goals for himself in the classroom as well. He said his grade point average is about 3.9 -- he's earned straight A's since middle school, but he admitted to having trouble balancing class work and skiing last year.

Knight said his goal is to work himself back into the top 10 percent of his graduating class to take advantage of scholarship opportunities awarded by the University of Alaska, and added that he'd like to join the ski team at the University of Alaska Anchorage.

Knight's favorite subject is biology, and he said he's interested in exploring a career in the environmental field.

"I loved the AP biology class I took," Knight said. "It was the hardest class I took, but it was one of those classes you enjoy being in."

Knight said he's always been fascinated with forestry, and has pictured himself patrolling the woods.

The Stars' summer training runs aren't that different.

"The whole goal is to get lost. When we're lost, we've won," Knight said.

Knight's teammates weren't quite as enthusiastic about their training strategy.

"When it works, we end up walking through swamps," Mark Harro said.

"And getting yelled at," added Dan Harro.

Knight is a member of the Soldotna chapter of the National Honor Society, and his other passion is music. Knight is a member of the swing choir at Soldotna, and he's working on his skills on both the guitar and the banjo. The harmonica also is on his list of things to learn.

Knight will graduate from Soldotna this spring, but Harbison has a feeling that the senior has made a lasting impression.

"We'll definitely miss his presence on the team next year," Harbison said. "His work ethic and his personality have had an influence on the younger members of the team, so there will be some carry-through."

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