Just about everyone involved in the world of cross country should know the story of the dynamic sisters from Seward.
Senior twins Denali and Rubye Foldager have dominated many meets throughout their four years, Rubye capturing state titles as a freshman and junior with Denali taking the crown their sophomore year.
With both at the top of their game again, Rubye fresh off a Region III championship and Denali coming off an impressive third-place finish, one would think they hold the key to the Seward girls' success at Saturday's state meet in Palmer.
What people may not know, however, is there's another pair of sisters who could also prove key if the Seahawks are to remain in contention in the Class 1-2-3A race.
Sophomore Allison Barnwell, who was 10th at state last year and seventh at regions this year, and her freshman sister, Mackenzie, who was eighth at regions, are Seward's third and fourth runners on a team seeking to follow up their region crown with one at the state level.
"I think those two are really going to step up for us," Seahawks coach Dan Marshall said, adding they still need to depend on Kristina Atherton, Kelley Sefton and Samara Johnson. "I think we can depend on Rubye and Denali ... but I think the key is going to be the two Barnwell girls."
Running most of the season relatively unnoticed, as opposed to the Foldagers, who make headlines nearly every time they step on the course, the Barnwells should benefit from the anonymity.
"They're so under the radar that no one is really paying them much attention," he said. "They're going to run a nice, loose, relaxed race. There's no pressure on them."
But there is pressure for the Foldagers, who are looking to make it four straight state championships between the two.
That doesn't necessarily mean they have to win, though.
"I think they're feeling tremendous pressure. I think it's pretty tough after the years of Foldagers to go into your last race and not feel pressure, but they're competitors. Whether they win or not, is not going to matter with either of them," Marshall explained. "They're going to state to just run their last race and really enjoy it. They're there to have a good time this year."
They'll have plenty of competition.
ACS senior Nychele Fischetti finished just under 13 seconds behind Rubye at the region meet on Saturday and then there's the girls from Haines, who Marshall believes could capture the team title.
"Certainly Rubye and Denali have as good a chance as anybody to pop into the top spot," he said. "But there's actually six girls in the race that can win the thing.
"The Haines' girls ... are the team to beat," Marshall added. "I think they're a step ahead of us in just about every position, but I think we're going to run a great race."
Having placed third at regions, the Seward boys have less pressure to deal with, which, in the end, can only help them.
Led by junior Travis Price, the Seahawks, also consisting of Matt Nyholm, Mark Chase, Brett Chase, Andrew Buchanan, Aaron Sarka and Pyper Dixon, are looking to compete in a field that Marshall deemed to be tougher than last year, when Price took fifth in the state.
"He's a competitor and he's going to run a great race on Saturday and we'd love to see him in a top-five finish this year," he said. "Our boys are going to be running very relaxed and very loose and more often than not, that's going to equal some really great times and some really great races for them.
"We can only control what we can control and we can only control our performance," Marshall added. "I've been at it too long to know anything can happen at state."
Also competing in the Class 1-2-3A race is Cook Inlet Academy, whose girls team is making its fourth straight trip to the state meet.
That doesn't guarantee the Eagles success at state, though, considering the field is as competitive as it's been in a long time.
"It's the toughest I've ever seen it in upper echelon of runners," said CIA coach Ted McKenney. "It's too close to call. The parity is so great right now that it's fun to watch."
Region II champions three years in a row now, the Eagles are led by junior Holly Kopp, sophomore Sadie Arneson and senior Brooke Forsi, who finished first, second and third, respectively, at the region meet, and sixth, 19th and 22nd, respectively, at state last season.
Rounding out the squad is Kelsey Brush, Hilary Domke and Dani Rehm.
"(Kopp's) big goal will be to see if she can get into top 10 at state, maybe top five if things go well," McKenney explained. "Being a sophomore, we're not really sure how (Arneson) will do."
Then there's Forsi, who, he said, is probably the most gifted runner he's ever coached.
"She just has one more step to take to be up there with the elite. We'll see what she can do," McKenney said. "Basically just run the middle of the race just as hard as she possibly can. It's easier to let down in the middle a bit. If she can put that full race together, she can run with anybody."
The boys are coming off a second-placed finish at regions, led by sophomore Josh Holly's second-place finish.
Taking 10th at state last season, Holly should be able to improve.
"I think he can," McKenney said, "but it's the toughest I have ever seen 1-2-3A."
Also competing on the boys team is Lars Arneson, Zac Cielak, Tyler Solie, Mitch Mesa and Jeremiah Hilbish.
After sneaking both teams into the Class 4A state race by placing fourth at the Region III meet, the Skyview boys and girls teams are just hoping everybody's healthy enough to compete.
Sophomore Ivy O'Guinn, who heads a girls team made up of Marquee Lucas, Michaela Hutchison, Megan Janorschke, Mallory Millay, Kelsea Fowler and Amanda Millay, has a sore knee after finishing sixth at state last season.
"Hopefully, she'll feel good on Saturday and be able to run well," said Panthers coach Kent Peterson.
Out with an injury is regional 21st-place finisher Scott Begins, who hurt himself this week and is being replaced by Alex Janorschke. He will run alongside Anthony Silva, Keith Clancy, Johnny Cook and Anthony Guth.
Leading the Skyview boys, though, are Mike Moerlein and Tommy Honer, who placed sixth and seventh, respectively, at regions but finished 30th and 39th at state last season.
Peterson is hoping both cross in the top 10 this year.
"They really work well together, those two especially. They pretty much ran the same time," he said. "The other guys are all running pretty close to that.
"It would be nice to see one of them get in there."
Also competing in the 4A race is Kenai's Molly Watkins, who placed fifth in the region meet, and Ninilchik's Jefferson Klapak in the 1-2-3A race after taking 10th in the Region II meet.
The last time local teams competed on the Mike Janecek Trails was at the Palmer Invitational on Sept. 8, when rain soaked the entire course, forcing everybody to run in a thick blanket of mud.
Many are hoping for clear skies on Saturday.
"I think the kids learned a lot in the last race, how to run in that," Peterson said. "Some kids, they really look forward to adverse conditions. That can play a big role in it, too."
McKenney also is gunning for a dry afternoon.
"If it rains hard, as it does sometimes in the Valley, it can be really muddy," he explained. "Efficient runners do well on it. People that have big, long strides that do well on flat courses, don't do so well there."
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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